How to Dry Herbs

Once you learn the basics of growing herbs indoors and you have your plants flourishing, the next step is to learn how to dry herbs. Drying herbs will help preserve them so you can keep them and store them to use for anywhere from 6 months to a year.

There are two basic methods of drying herbs that work well. The first method is by using a dehydrator, which usually only takes a few hours and is what the USDA National Center for Food Preservation recommends.

The second popular way to dry herbs is the air dry hanging method, which usually takes several weeks.

Each of these methods works well for extracting the moisture and retaining the essential oils in the plant which is what gives the herbs their flavor and health benefits.

Whichever one you use is entirely up to you, but there are a LOT of advantages to using a dehydrator!

Food Dehydrator Vs. Air Drying Herbs

dehydrator vs air drying herbs

There are a lot of advantages to using a food dehydrator over patiently waiting for your hanging herbs to be ready to store. The USDA recommends it mostly for food safety reasons – but there are of course many other benefits as well.

#1: Benefit: Save a LOT of Time

You will save WEEKS of time if you use a dehydrator. Drying your garden herbs naturally by air can take at least two weeks. If you live in a very rainy and humid climate like we do, they may actually never dry…which leads to a bigger problem…

Dry herbs and leaves

#2. Benefit: Avoid Mold

Air drying can potentially lead to mold because it requires such a long time for the plants to be properly dried and preserved.

Mold is a big problem for many people, and it’s very difficult to completely eradicate. If your food is moldy, you should not eat it…and there goes your entire harvest, destroyed.

Another problem? Mold spreads. Fast. It can get into your house, your ventilation systems, and contaminate everything you own.

For me, that is way too much to risk. A dehydrator is an easy way to prevent what could potentially cause major problems.

#3. Benefit: No Unwanted Pests

If you think it’s hard to keep the critters out of your garden outside, imagine rodents like mice and rats who think your drying herbs are a buffet for them to feast upon – and even wrapped in paper they can shred to use for bedding! It’s practically an invitation: “Mice Welcome”.

Air drying may invite unwanted pests which can also contaminate your food supply. The herbs require lots of open dry air and ventilation to properly dry – and unfortunately, this also means they can be an easy target for many rodents.

Unless you happen to have a bunch of cats who reliably keep your homestead pest-free, this can be another big safety and risk factor. You should never eat food that has been contaminated with mice or rat droppings, especially because they may carry a number of diseases that can make you very, very sick according to the CDC.

If you use a food dehydrator, this reduces the risks associated with attracting unwanted pests that normally would not be interested in your pantry because everything is properly stored.

#4. Benefit: You Can Dry a Lot More Than Just Herbs!

Dehydrated fruit

Many people don’t realize herbs aren’t the only food you can dry to enjoy later. You can make all sorts of things with a good food dehydrator – from beef jerky to even dried fruits and vegetables.

Realizing all of the possibilities for ways to preserve different kinds of foods is one of the reasons I decided a food dehydrator was a better method than air drying. While I of course love home canning and all those yummy things we can make, it’s also nice to know that every single thing is destined for a jar.

Because we live in a northern climate where fresh fruits aren’t available 24/7, we are able to harvest things like strawberries in June and enjoy dried fruits year-round. Another advantage to dried fruit? They take up a lot less space and time!

As you can see, there are MANY benefits to using a food dehydrator instead of hanging up herbs to air dry. If you don’t have one yet, the good news is I did all the research ahead of time for you when I started learning how to dry my own foods. You can see my top picks and buying guide here.

If you’re already sold on the idea of getting one, just go straight to Amazon right now and just order the Excaliber – it is an investment but so worth it if you grow your own foods and want to preserve them safely!

[content-egg module=Amazon template=item_simple]

how to dry herbs

How to Dry Herbs With a Food Dehydrator

Using a food dehydrator is the fastest and easiest way to dry not only herbs but really just about any type of foods you may want to preserve easily for year-round use.

Using a dehydrator is also the method the National Center for Home Food Preservation recommends to use for drying herbs the most safely and effectively. The only caveat for this is you MUST have a high-quality dehydrator.

The one we use and recommend is the Excalibur 9-Tray Food Dehydrator, which features adjustable thermostat controls and a timer, which means you can use it without even thinking about it – it will turn off after the time you set it for!

[content-egg module=Amazon template=item_simple]

A good-quality food dehydrator is not only awesome for drying herbs but also works exceptionally well for all types of garden goodies and homemade foods.

The Excalibur food dehydrator is great to use with drying herbs because you can set it to the lowest setting of 85 degrees, and most other ones do not go lower than 100. If the setting is too high, the essential oils will be lost.

The 9 trays work very well also because you can remove some trays from the unit and allow for better ventilation, especially for items with larger leaves. Yes, it is an investment – but it’s also one you’ll likely you for the rest of your life.

Materials Needed for Drying Herbs With a Dehydrator

  • Food Dehydrator
  • Storage Containers
  • Labels & Marker

Step 1: Prepare Your Herbs

Depending on which herbs you are drying, the first step of course is to make sure the part you wish to dry and store are the ones you want to eat!

If you are harvesting the entire plant, you will want to carefully remove the stems and branches from your herbs so that only the leaves are what you place in the dehydrator. Be sure that your herbs are free from any dirt or debris from the garden.

Step 2: Place The Herbs on Dehydrator Trays

Once the leaves are ready, place them in a single layer on the dehydrator trays, making sure that you leave enough space between trays for air circulation. If need be, remove any extra trays from the dehydrator in between for more airflow and space.

Step 3: Set the Temperature and Drying Time

Depending on the type of food dehydrator you use, you will want to set the temperature and time according to the manufacturer’s directions.

With most herbs, you will want to use the lowest temperature possible, since many of these plants are a bit sensitive and high heat can cause them to lose flavor and those precious essential oils you may be trying to preserve. I usually set mine to 85 degrees for things such as lavender, oregano, and basil – but you can of course use the lowest setting your machine offers.

Drying time will vary between 1-4 hours depending on which types of herbs you are drying and the type of machine you use.

Because there are so many factors such as how far they are spaced apart, type of plant, and the size, it’s typically best to do your first batch in 1-hour increments until you get a feel for how long it takes.

Herbal tea medicinal plants, homeopatic.

Step 4: Remove the Herbs & Store Them Properly

Your herbs are fully dried when they can easily crumble when you touch them. They should have a similar consistency and aroma as dried herbs – although they will certainly be a lot fresher!

At this point, they are ready to store and use. See, we told you it was easy!

If you do not have a food dehydrator, you can also air dry them. Directions for how to air dry herbs are below.

Air Drying Directions for Drying Herbs

If you do not want to use the dehydrator you can still get good results with the old-fashioned way of hanging them to dry – just be prepared for it to take at least 2 weeks if not longer!

Materials Needed for Air Drying

  • Rubber band or string
  • Brown Paper Bags
  • Scissors
  • Label & Markers
  • Hooks/Hanger for hanging
  • Storage Containers

Step 1: Picking the Herbs:

Your herbs MUST be dry before trying to dry them, so be sure that they are not wet from rain, watering, or dew drops, otherwise, you risk the likelihood of mold and other problems.

Preparation of herbs for drying
Preparation of herbs for drying

Step 2: Tie Them Together:

Pick between 4-6 branches and tie the ends together with a piece of string or yarn. Thick rubber bands also work well. Be sure before tying them together you remove any leaves or stems that do not look healthy, as this could cause mold or other issues while drying.

Step 3: Place in a Paper Bag

Take the scissors and cut a few small venting holes in the paper bag. This will help air get to them to dry and prevent them from getting moldy or collecting dust since it will likely take a couple of weeks.

Place the branches in the bag so the leaves are at the bottom of the bag and the stems are at the top. Tie the top of the bag and be sure to leave enough string so you can hang it.

Label the bag using a permanent marker as to what it is, since it may be more difficult to tell once they are dry. We made this mistake with rosemary and oregano in our pre-dehydrator days many years ago. Do not trust your memory to remember what is in what bag two or three weeks from now!

Step 4: Hang the Herbs

You will want to hang them in a dry, warm, and airy place – they must get good ventilation. Try not to put them in closed-up spaces such as a closet or garage. You also do not want to put them in places where moisture is a problem, such as basements.

If air drying, you may want to consider running a fan in the room to promote good ventilation.

Collection of Various Fresh Herbs Hanging in Bunches for Drying

Step 5: Wait a Long Time

Okay, so two weeks or so isn’t really that long to wait, but after you use a dehydrator it is really hard to go back to this method. A dehydrator only takes a few hours, not to mention the time you save in tying them all together!

Step 6: Process & Store

You will know your herbs are dry because they will crumble when you touch them. Once you are confident your herbs are fully dried, you are ready to remove any stalks or branches and place the crumbled leaves into labeled storage containers.

[content-egg module=Amazon template=item_simple]

Additional Tips for Drying Herbs

Whether you choose to air dry or invest in a dehydrator, there are some tips that will help you with harvesting and preserving your dried herbs.

  • Pick Stems/Branches off whole so the plant will grow new ones
  • Pick before the plant flowers/blossoms if applicable
  • Pick in the mid-morning, as this is when the plants are usually at their prime.
  • Store in dark, air tight containers to preserve longevity.
  • Microwaving, Ovens and Sunlight will likely cause the herbs to lose their potency, flavor and smell, so these methods should not be used.

Now that you know the two easy basic ways for how to dry herbs, you’re ready to get started and go!

If you have any tips for drying your own herbs, we’d love to hear them in the comments section below!

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *