When we spend so much time growing or foraging for our medicinal or culinary herbs, we want to make sure that they last with as much taste and medicinal potency as possible! The simplest form of preservation is to dry the herbs.
The method I use to dry an herb depends on the plant and the space I have. If I’m only wanting the blossoms, I will cut only the blossoms off of the plant and lay them out flat in one layer on a baking tray, screen or most any clean, dry surface that I can put out of the way for a few days. The same goes for larger leaves or small plants. I’ve used baskets for larger leaves or even a plate if I only have a few small plants to dry.
Another method I use is to bunch like plants together and tie off with string or recycled twist-tie. I then hang them in a shaded spot inside the house–in an area free from pet hair or grease.
To dry roots, if they are reasonably soft, I will cut them into ready-to-use pieces, because roots usually get harder with drying and can be very difficult to cut.
Someone asked me recently how long I air dry my herbs. I answered, “I dry them until I’m sure they’re dry and then I leave them a few more days. Ha-ha.” If I need to get them out of the way or if I’m just not sure if they’re dry yet–and almost always with berries or seeds–I put them in a paper bag for a month or more to continue drying. If I’m drying whole plants with seed heads or blossoms that may fall off, I will hang them up inside a paper bag. For some, I keep them stored in a paper bag. One year, I thought my fuzzy sumac seeds were dry and stored them in a closed container. A couple months later, I thought I’d make some sumac “lemonade”, but when I opened the container, they were moldy. Lesson learned!
If I have something pretty to dry like rosehips, I often leave some of them out for decoration. If your house is especially dusty, you may not find these edible later on. But you could always rinse them off and use them in tea or whatever.
Three Inexpensive Products You Might Like to Try:
With all the interest in traditional herb and food preservation these days, manufacturers are coming up with some neat ideas. I think one of these could make a neat drying rack for herbs. The one with the sides would even keep bug or pet hair out and would possibly keep things from spilling if you bump it. The one with no side walls will allow better air circulation for possible faster drying. I’d like to have one of these hanging in the corner of my kitchen or pantry.
This rack is pretty cool looking, but I think I’d want to keep some herbs hanging there all year just for decoration!
To Use a Dehydrator or Not:
It seems that a lot of people are discovering the wonder that is herbs these days, and it seems that some think you have to have a lot of fancy equipment to use them. While I would love to have the amazing Excalibur Dehydrator for dehydrating my fruits and vegetables, I really prefer to not use heat on my medicinal or culinary herbs. Most herbs air-dry very quickly, and unless you watch them closely, you will likely scorch your precious harvest. So don’t wait until you have the money to splurge on a fancy dehydrator. Start air drying your herbs today.
If you really want to use a dehydrator, it’s best to use one that has a temperature control and a large range of settings. For drying fruits, fruit leathers, succulent leaves, etc, on my wishlist is the Excalibur.