Whether you have your own herb garden or purchase your fresh herbs from the grocer or market, drying fresh herbs is a great way to preserve them for later use. Drying herbs isn't a complicated procedure, and you don't need any special equipment or appliances to be successful.
There are two basic ways to learn how to dry fresh herbs: air drying and heat drying. Air drying takes longer, but results in a more flavorful product. Heat drying is quicker, but the addition of heat to the process can, in effect, cook the herb and cause it to lose some of its flavor. Both methods of how to dry herbs, however, result in aromatic dried herbs that can last up to two years if stored properly.
The Air Drying Method
Air drying works best for hearty herbs such as sage, thyme, oregano, dill, and rosemary. More delicate herbs like parsley and basil can be air dried, but much care should be used when handling the fragile leaves and stems, and the herbs need to be checked frequently for the presence of mold.
To air dry your fresh herbs:
- Snip garden herbs in small bunches; gently shake each bunch to remove insects and dead leaves. Pluck off any damaged leaves by hand.
- Gathering the branches by their stems, tie bunches of four or five branches together with string. Be careful not to tie the string so tightly so as to cause damage to the stems, as broken stems invite mold.
- Hang the bunches upside down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area. You can use an indoor clothes line, clothes hangers hung from a rod, or even hook the bunches over tacks in a bulletin board. If your herbs are resting against the wall while hung, turn them every few days to allow even drying.
- Leave the herbs to air dry for at least two weeks. It doesn't hurt to leave them longer than that, so if you are unsure as to whether they are completely dry or not, leave them hanging. Herbs will be sufficiently dry when they are crumbly to the touch.
- When completely dried, remove herbs from their stems. Discard any bunches that contain mold. Store in an airtight container or zippered plastic bag in a cool, dark place.
The Heat-Drying Method
Heat drying works best with the fragile herbs that may not make it through air drying without turning moldy. While there are many dehydrating machines on the market that use heat to dry food, using your oven is just as effective.
To dry your fresh herbs using heat:
- Preheat oven to 150 degrees.
- Snip leaves from stems; discard stems. Also discard any branches that show signs of mold or damage. Rinse leaves under cold water and gently but completely dry with paper towels.
- Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats (reusable non-stick baking mats). Spread herbs over the baking sheet in a single layer, taking care that they don't overlap.
- Bake the herbs until they are completely dry and crumbly; about 40 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let cool. Store in airtight containers or zippered plastic bags, in a cool, dark place.
Using Dried Herbs
When you're ready to use your stored, dried herbs, crumble them in your hands before adding to your recipe. This will allow the aroma and flavor to escape the dried leaves much better than adding the whole herb at once. Alternatively, use a mortar and pestle to finely grind your herbs.
As they age, dried herbs tend to lose their flavor and potency. If you're using older herbs, add a little more than the recipe calls for in order to get the maximum taste in your food.