How to Dry Fresh Herbs
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Drying herbs is a simple way to preserve the flavor of summer for homemade dishes all year round. There are multiple methods for drying herbs. Here we suggested three methods for drying herbs that you can use for most green, leafy varieties (think basil, parsley, thyme, oregano, etc.).
Dried herbs offer similar nutritional benefits to their fresh counterparts if dried and preserved carefully. Adding herbs to your meals is an excellent way to not only add flavor, but also nutritional benefit. Check out the book Spice Apothecary by Bevin Clare for great information on using herbs for your health!
When to Harvest Herbs for Drying
The best time to harvest herbs that you want to dry is in late morning – when they have shed off any morning dew and are nice and fresh. In terms of the life cycle of an herb plant, harvest as soon as they are full grown and have multiplied to at least 5-10 stems. If you wait too long, the herbs might get tough. You can see this very clearly with parsley which can get large and more chewy as it gets bigger. If you pick too many leaves too soon, you might stint the growth of your plant.
Pay attention to the best way to harvest each specific herb. Basil, for example, can be harvested just above where side leaves have formed. This will encourage the plant to sprout more offshoots from those side leaves and get nice and big! (Read more about pruning basil for huge harvests here).
Parsley or Cilantro, on the other hand, can be harvested on the stem near the base, in essence trimming off a section of your larger plant.
A great time to harvest for drying is toward the end of the summer when plants can be as large as bushes and you can’t even use the herb fast enough. Grab basil and cilantro before the first frost. Thyme, oregano, and parsley might actually last through a few frosts.
Drying Herbs: Three Methods
In this article we cover three methods for drying herbs: hanging, using a dehydrator, and using your oven. You may find that certain herbs lend themselves better to certain methods. For example, we find that parsley dries better in our dehydrator, whereas basil does even better with the hanging method. Don’t be afraid to experiment to see which method you like best for each herb.
Method: Hanging Herbs to Dry
The oldest method in the book to dry herbs is hanging them to dry. You simply pick a bunch of herbs, join the stems together with an elastic, twine or a twist tie, then hang them to dry. In our experience, this method takes one to three weeks depending on the type of herb.
That said, there are a few tips that make this herb drying method work best.
First, keep the drying herbs out of direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can bleach the color out of the herbs, taking flavor and nutrients with it.
Second, place the hanging herbs in a cool, dark spot that gets some air circulation. This will help the herbs to dry more quickly without the potential for them to get extra moist and grow mold. We use a front hall closet that is upstairs and gets plenty of air, but has a slatted door that keeps light out.
Third, consider hanging the herbs inside a paper bag. This way, if any leaves drop off of the stem, you can capture them in the bag. This is especially nice for drying lavender as those little flower buds can fall all over the place!
We love the simple herb drying rack that my brother gave us for Christmas one year. We can use the little clips to hold the herbs and the paper bag together and we can dry up to three types of herbs at a time. You can also get mesh herb drying racks that allow you to spread herbs out in a single layer to hang them. That said, you can also just string them up from the ceiling beams if that works better for you!
Method 2: Drying Herbs in a Dehydrator
A dehydrator uses dry heat at a low temperature to speed the process of drying herbs. There are two types of dehydrators to consider: an electric dehydrator and a solar dehydrator. Electric dehydrators come in a varieties of styles and levels of complexity, but we find that a fairly simple dehydrator like this one from Nesco works well for drying herbs.
The benefit of an electric dehydrator is that you can control the temperature over a long period of time for more reliable results.
Side note: If you want to get a dehydrator that serves multiple purposes and is strong enough to dry meats and other more complicated products, check out our guide to choosing a dehydrator.
A solar dehydrator uses the heat of the sun to dry food rather than electricity. You’ll want to be careful using this type of dehydrator for delicate herbs, but if you keep a close eye on them it can be done. This is because they will not be sitting in the sun as long as if you hung them inside in a sunny window. The cool thing about solar dehydrators (other than the fact that they use no electricity) is that you can either buy one or build one yourself!
Using either of these methods, you can dry herbs at a temperature of about 95 degrees for about a day or two, depending on how moist the herb is. We don’t love this method for basil, I think because it takes so long that the leaves loose their beautiful green color. But, we find that our dehydrator works great for parsley and sage.
To use a dehydrator you will need to pick large herb leaves like parsley or basil off of their stem and lay them in a flat layer. Other herbs like thyme, tarragon, or oregano can be left on their stem and shaken or picked off later.
Method 3: Drying Herbs in your Oven
If you don’t have access to a dehydrator and don’t want to wait for your herbs to dry hanging, you can try drying herbs in your oven. This is a method that takes some care and attention to ensure that you do not over-dry your herbs.
To dry herbs in your oven, first heat the oven to its lowest temperature (usually about 200-250 degrees), then TURN IT OFF. After you have turned your oven off it will start to cool down to a temperature that is more suitable for herb drying (closer to 100 degrees). You can place your herbs in the oven after you turn it off and leave them there, checking every few hours for dryness.
Alternatively, if your oven can be set to a low temperature (170 degrees) you can put the herbs in and allow them to gently cook WITH THE DOOR OPEN for 30 minutes. Check them frequently for dryness – remember that some herbs dry faster than others. For more on this method, visit this article by Wife, Mama, Foodie.
Some people also find success drying herbs in an oven by simply leaving the oven light on. The oven light may provide just enough heat to do the trick, but since oven lights vary you’ll have to test yours out. Consider placing an oven thermometer in the oven and turning the light on for 10-15 minutes then checking the temperature. You’ll need a temperature between 90 – 110 degrees to effectively dry herbs without waiting forever.
Chop & Store Fresh Herbs
Once your herbs are dried, you will want to pick leaves off stems (if you haven’t already, and chop your herbs into smaller pieces. While you can do this with a knife or by hand, we prefer a food processor. Specifically, we use our mini-chopper to puree herbs to our desired consistency.
Store herbs in air tight containers or zipper plastic bags to prevent spoilage. You can absolutely re-fill store bought herb jars, or buy your own herb jars to create your own herb display. Oh, and don’t store those dried herbs out in sunlight, either. Keep them in a dark corner of the kitchen or in a cabinet or drawer to preserve their freshness.