Now that cooler weather is here, those herbs you have been growing all summer long are ready to be harvested and get winter-ready for use. Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Mint, Rosemary and other common herbs all can follow these guidelines.
Cut herbs at soil level, or simply pull them up from dry soil and cut off the root bundle. This should be done at the growing site or in a sink for easier clean up.
Remove Dry or Diseased Leaves
Remove any dry or diseased leaves from the cut herbs. Yellowed leaves and leaves spotted by disease are not worth drying. Their flavor has already been diminished by the stress of the season.
Make Sure Herbs Are Dry
If you’ve picked your herbs while the plants are dry, you should be able to simply shake off any excess soil. Rinse with cool water only if necessary and pat dry with paper towels. Hang or lay the herb branches out where they will get plenty of air circulation so they can dry out quickly. Wet herbs will mold and rot.
Remove Lower Leaves
Remove the lower leaves along the bottom inch or so of the stem. You can use these leaves fresh or dry them separately.
Bundle Stems Together
Bundle four to six stems together and tie as a bunch with a cord you have on hand. Kitchen twine, raffia cord, a shoe string or a rubber band works well. The bundles will shrink as they dry and if the rubber band was used, this will loosen, so check periodically to make sure that the bundle is not slipping. If you are trying to dry herbs that have a high water content, make small bundles so they get air flow between the branches and do not rot.
Place Herb Upside Down
Using another piece of cord or a clothes pin, attach the herb bundle upside down onto another string that hangs from one point to another inside a airy warm dry room, such as a laundry room or pantry. The length of your hanging cord is dependent upon the actual room you have in the room. Several lengths of hanging herbs can be used. A bonus is the aromatics they give off as they dry!
Monitor After Two Weeks
Check in about two weeks to see how things are progressing. Keep checking weekly until your herbs are dry enough to crumble and ready to store.
How to Store Herbs
Once you’ve completed the drying process:
Store Herbs in Airtight Containers
Store your dried herbs in airtight containers. Small canning jars work nicely. Zippered plastic bags will work, but these are best if you punch a few holes in them for any moisture to escape. Another good container is a cleaned used spice jar that has a lid with the option of holes. Your herbs will retain more flavor if you store the leaves whole and crush them when you are ready to use them.
Label and Date Containers
Label and date your containers.
Discard Any Moldy Herbs
Discard any dried herbs that show the slightest sign of mold. It will only spread.
Place Containers in a Cool, Dry Spot
Place containers in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. There are now amber-colored canning jars that are designed to block sunlight.
Tips for Using Dried Herbs
You can begin using your herbs once the drying and storage process is complete:
When you want to use your herbs in cooking, simply pull out a stem and crumble the leaves into the pot. You should be able to loosen the leaves by running your hand down the stem.
Use about 1 teaspoon crumbled dried leaves in place of a tablespoon of fresh herbs.
Dried herbs are best used within a year. As your herbs lose their color, they are also losing their flavor.