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How to Dry Herbs for Optimal Quality

If you grow your own herbs, you'll want to learn how to dry them to preserve their freshness and enjoy them through the winter months. If you follow the techniques described here, your dry herbs will last for months to come.

| May 17, 2013

  • “Homegrown Herbs” by Tammi Hartung is a step-by-step primer for gardeners of every level. It includes in-depth profiles of 101 cultivars, including information on seed selection, planting, maintenance and care, harvesting, drying, and uses in the kitchen, home pharmacy, crafting, and body care.
    Cover Courtesy Storey Publishing
  • Hanging bundles of drying herbs add a beautiful touch to any space in your home that has good air movement, warm temperatures, and is not in direct sunlight.
    Photo Courtesy Storey Publishing
  • Before storing a dried herb, crumble a piece in your hand to make sure there is no moisture in it. This will ensure that it does not mold during storage.
    Photo Courtesy Storey Publishing

Herbs are versatile plants: They are a source of flavor, fragrance, healing, and comfort. In Homegrown Herbs (Storey Publishing, 2011), Tammi Hartung provides step-by-step guidance for growing, using, and enjoying 101 different herb cultivars. The best and easiest way to preserve your herbs is to dry them, and in this excerpt from Chapter 7, Hartung describes how to dry herbs for optimum quality and storage life.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Homegrown Herbs.

There are a number of methods you can use to dry herbs, from hanging bundles to screen and basket drying to drying in paper sacks and cardboard boxes. Regardless of how you do it, be sure a plant is fully dry before storing or it will mold.

Attics usually work very well for drying herbs; basements generally aren’t good if they have poor air movement or are the least bit damp. I dry herbs on our covered patio here in Colorado, but the climate is dry. People in areas with high humidity will have more difficulty. You may need to assist the process by setting up fans to improve air circulation and remove some of the moisture from the air. If plants are dried improperly, they may show signs of mold and mildew in the form of a white downy or black slimy coating. The plants will often smell musty or rotten; these plants must be discarded.

Please do not dry herbs in buildings where machine oils or other fumes will be present. Plants can absorb these substances, and that’s the last thing you want if you plan to use them for health and well-being.

How to Dry Herbs in Hanging Bundles

If you decide to dry herbs by hanging them upside down in bundles, it’s important to pay attention to the size of the bundles. As you put together a bundle, look at the stems and be sure that the diameter of the bunch where the stems are tied together is no bigger than that of a pencil. This will allow for good airflow through the bundle, thus discouraging the growth of mold and mildew.

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