Drying Herbs

Why dry herbs? For one thing, it's a simple way to preserve your herbs for later use, whatever that may be - from making tea to salves to tinctures. It's also an easy way to deal with a bunch of herbs that you don't have immediate plans for, so you don't have to dive into epic herbal projects for every herb in your share right away.  Dried herbs are nice for making tea too, as the flavor is concentrated by removing most of the moisture from the plant. 

Methods to dry herbs

  1. Forced-air dehydrator. Set the thermostat to between 90 – 100 degrees. Roots can take higher temperatures than delicate flowers or leaves. Turn the herbs several times for even drying. This can take up to several days depending on the plant and weather. We use a large scale dryer at the farm but we also have a small Excalibur dryer which I have found useful over the years for particularly moist herbs, roots (chop/slice them first) or during a stretch of rainy days.
  2. Bunching herbs and hanging to dry. I like to put up a line of twine in our kitchen and clip or tie herb bunches onto it to dry. Our CSA bunches tend to be large and I separate them into at least two portions for hanging. This method works especially well for less moisture-rich herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary, savory, horsetail, etc. Keep them out of the sun while drying. And when they are dry put them in storage rather than keep them hanging all year long (although that can be nice too). 
  3. In the oven. on very low heat with the door partially open. Use a wooden mixing spoon to prop the door open. 
  4. Sunny day. Hot car. Windows slightly open for ventilation. Lay herbs on racks or paper out of direct sunlight.
  5. Herbs in brown paper bags. Nettles dry well this way. Fill up the bag halfway and separate the leaves from the stems for faster and more even drying. Best for drying leafy green herbs and not harder to dry flowers, roots or extra moist leaves. 
  6. Laying herbs out on screens. This allows for good ventilation and works well with flowers, though petals may stick to the screens slightly.

Most herbs are dry when the leaves are crumbly. Ideally the stems "snap" too but if they don't just remove the leaves from the stem and compost the stems (if you include them with your stored herbs they will rehydrate the rest unless they are dry too). Flowers are generally dry when they crumble, or for calendula, when the centers can be snapped with your fingernail. Roots generally should snap. 

Storing your CSA herbs:

This tip will share 2 different methods of storing your CSA herbs. The first method is storing dried herbs for future use.  The second method involves storing your FRESH herbs for processing and use at a later date. 

Storing dried herbs

Storing dried herbs in mason jars allows you to secure an air-tight seal and prevent molding. You’ll know your herbs are completely dried and ready for storage when they crumble easily. If your leaves are crumbly but the stem is still moist, remove leaves from stem and allow leaves to dry for an extra day or two. Note: roots may take weeks to dry. 

Remove your herbs from the drying mechanism (screen, hook, dehydrator, etc) and be careful to keep leaves intact. Storing the leaves and herbs whole will preserve the essential oils trapped in the leaves until you’re ready for them. Crush/crumble only what you need when you’re ready for use. Label your mason jars with the name of the herb and the date of storage. Store your herbs in a cool, dry space out of direct sunlight. Double check on your jar 24-48 hours later to ensure there’s no excess moisture/condensation from herbs that weren’t fully dried. If properly dried and stored, your herbs should retain freshness for about a year, possibly longer for roots and tougher plant material.

Optional information to put on label: where the herbs came from, latin name (an easy way to start learning latin names), drying method (if you want to compare and contrast methods)