How to Dry Herbs and Spices

How to dry herbs and spices

If you grew fresh herbs in your garden this year or have some naturally growing in your backyard, you can easily preserve some of the extra herbs and have them on hand for use all year long.

The first step in the process of preserving herbs is drying them correctly. After drying, they can be further preserved in herbal oils, tinctures or other preparations.

Why Dry Herbs and Spices?

Drying herbs is one of the fastest and easiest ways to preserve them. Many herbs grow quickly in backyard gardens and dry easily through methods like air drying or dehydration.

Store bought herbs and spices are often expensive for the small amount that comes in spice containers, and you can save money and ensure that your herbs are organic when you grow your own. There are quality places to order any herbs and spices that don’t grow in your area (I order here) and this also saves money when you order in bulk, but growing and drying your own is by far the most economical method.

In a culinary sense, herbs typically refer to the leaves of plants and can be used fresh or dried. Spices come from the bark, berries, root, stem, seed or other part of the plant and are often used dried and powdered. Almost any herb or spice can be dried at home to preserve it for up to a year, though some herbs preserve their taste better when frozen (see method below).

You can preserve almost any herb or spice at home in your kitchen, but the method is slightly different.

Step 1: Harvesting Herbs and Spices

The first step in preserving herbs or spices is harvesting them correctly. This is best done in the morning before about 10 AM for maximum potency, since beneficial oils in the plant have not yet been affected by the sun that day.

Leaves should be harvested fresh and any wilted, brown or discolored leaves should not be used.

Seeds should be harvested when they start to turn brown and harden, but before they start to fall off the plant naturally.

Flowers can be harvested by carefully cutting the flower heads off of the plant shortly after they bloom.

Step 2: Choose a Drying Method

There are several methods that work for drying herbs effectively. Some methods are preferable for certain herbs, but in general, any of them will work with a little modification:

Air Drying

  1. Gather herbs in small bunches of 4-5 stems per bunch and secure stems with a twist tie or small piece of wire.
  2. Loosely wrap each bundle in a breathable muslin cloth or a paper bag. It helps to secure this in the twist tie as well.
  3. Hang the bundles in a well-ventilated place space indoors and out of direct sunlight until dry. This typically takes about a week. TIP: Use some clothes hangers and clothes pins to hang the bundles easily.
  4. If it is still warm outside, you can solar dry herbs in indirect sunlight on drying screens or in little bundles with the same method.
  5. Remove leaves from stems and store (see below for method).

TIP: If you prefer to use  a screen to dry instead of hanging the herbs in bunches, stretch a piece of cheesecloth or organic muslin cloth over a wooden frame and staple to hold (even an old dollar tree picture frame will work for this). Place this frame in a well ventilated area or outside (not in direct sunlight) until herbs dry.

Oven Drying

Oven drying seems simple but it is actually one of the more difficult methods to correctly preserve the qualities of the herbs because the temperature must stay low.

  1. Remove leaves from stems of herbs.
  2. Place leaves on a baking sheet in a single layer.
  3. Preheat the oven to the lowest setting. For most ovens, this is around 170 degrees F, which is still to high. I prop my oven door open with the handle of a wooden spoon to allow air circulation and keep the temperature low enough.
  4. Check temperature often (between 100-120 degrees is optimal) and adjust as needed. Herbs tend to dry quickly with this method, so check the herbs often and remove when leaves start to crumble and no longer bend without breaking.

Using A Dehydrator

A high quality food dehydrator with a fan and adjustable temperature is the most efficient way to dry herbs quickly and preserve the most beneficial parts of the herb or spice.

If you have a dehydrator, follow the instructions on your model for drying herbs.

Method to Avoid: Microwave Drying

Some sources suggest drying herbs in the microwave. This only works for small quantities of herbs and this method is prone to problems, especially with high moisture herbs and is not energy efficient at all. I don’t recommend this method.

Step 3: Storing Herbs and Spices

To best preserve the flavor of dried herbs and spices, do not crumble or powder until the herb or spice is needed for use. Of course, the exception would be any herbs needed for pre-mixed herb and spice blends as those must be crumbled in order to mix well. These are the herbs and spice blends I always keep on hand.

Store leaves of dried herbs in clean class jars or containers with airtight lids. With any herbs or spices, make sure to label the jar immediately since many herbs look the same once dried.

Voila! Your dried herbs and spices can now be used when you need them in recipes. Note that dried herbs are typically more concentrated than fresh herbs, so if a recipe calls for fresh herbs, not as much of these dried herbs are needed.

Pro Tip:
Basil, Cilantro, Mint, Chives, and Parsley can be easily dried but retain their color and flavor better if they are frozen. To freeze easily and avoid freezer burn, finely chop the herbs and pack into ice cube trays. Cover with water or olive oil and freeze until solid. Pop out herb cubes and store in an airtight container until needed. These are excellent to add to soups or cooked dishes as needed.

Ever preserved or dried herbs? Which ones?

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Reader Comments

  1. Hello,
    Thank you very much for recipes and all what you sent for healthy life.
    I want ask, how can I get some products if I live in Lithuania (Europa).
    Where I can buy?

    Thank you in advance
    sincerely Zita Elena

    • I’m not sure, as Mountain Rose Herbs, where I get mine, does not ship to Europe.

  2. I have dried herbs many times and in many ways.

    Last week I paid my girls too pick plantain and then I dried them in the oven. 170° was fine for plantain. They were pretty wet from me washing them, so I was sure to flip them over with a spatula about every 30 minutes. And I agree glass is best to store your herbs in. But if I don’t have the time or the energy I just throw them in a plastic bag and remove all the air

    When I dry comfrey, I cut the stalks off and bundle them together with a piece of rope. I then hang them from my crabapple tree. When they are all dry I just rip the leaves off and put them in a 5 gallon bucket until I can do something with them. But most of the time I just throw the whole thing right in the bucket stalks and all.

    The heart is herb to work with is jewelweed. I was always told you can’t dry it, you have to use it fresh. So I decided to try my own method. And it worked perfectly.

    When I picked the jewelweed I put it in a 5 gallon bucket with water, because jewelweed is so tender and sensitive it will wilt almost immediately upon picking it. The water in the bucket keeps it fresh or longer. I’ve then take it home wash it yet keep it in the bucket still. Usually with roots still attached. And for all you environmental Buffs, don’t worry I pick jewelweed in several different places and not the same every year.

    After it’s all clean I De-root it as I am shaking off the water. I then immediately put it in a food dehydrator.

    This is the only way I have been able to dry jewelweed without it molding. Although I have not tried many other methods with jewelweed.

    I agree leave the herbs as whole as possible until you’re going to use them.

    I have made Salves, oils, balms, vinegars, tinctures, and much more. I’ve used dried and I’ve used fresh herbs. I always prefer the outcome of dried herbs over fresh herbs in these concoctions.

    And there’s my two cents… Take it or leave it !! ?

    • What do you use jewelweed for? We have lots of this at our house. such a lovely flower, and my kids love popping and eating the seeds pods.

      • I use it to make a poison ivy balm. First dry it then I make an oil with it in my oven and I use that oil along with comfrey oil And plantain oil.

    • Try simmering Jewelweed, then freezing in ice cube trays- finally, pop in plastic bags and keep in freezer until you use, can add to salves, moisturizers, soap or use on insect bites or rashes as is….?

  3. This is the easiest way to dry herbs. I even put slivered celery leaves along with other herbs on a cookie sheet with sides. I take it and a tea towel to the car on a day over, say, 85. Leave it in the hot car for 1-2 hrs depending on the delicacy of the item. When testing, the herb should not be chewy dry to the feel but should feel like parched. dry paper. NOW. . . here’s the best part. . . take a vitamin dry pack (small packet included in many vitamin bottles to assure keeping vitamins dry), put it in the glass jar to keep it all fresher longer! good luck!

  4. The ones i dried this year how i did it was i would buy bunches, for example, organic green onion, cut off the tops, chop into small pieces, put on a place spread out on the place, and put on my deck on the table with a metal strainer over it in the sun. They dry usually by the end of the day. then i take the bulbs from the green onions, put in a glass of water on my countertop, and i will get another good 2 to 3 or more uses out of it, they grow very quickly.

  5. I meant Plate, not place.

  6. This was the most influential blogs that helps me to preserve the herbs and spices for a longer period of time. Work Appreciated!!!

  7. Thank you — this is great. I had dried basil in my oven on lowest setting, but it was still too hot –was ruined! So, this is great info..thanks again!

  8. Dear WellnessMama, herbs should NOT be harvested in the morning (because they are wet from dew) nor in the evening (then the herbs are not in their top medicinal potency). Instead, they should be harvested on a dry day, ideally sunny day, afternoon when there is still sun, because the sun “wakes up” the medicinal potency of the herb. If there is rain, you should wait a few dry days to pass before harvesting.

  9. Dear wellness mama, Thank you for this great advice. Every time I tried to dry herbs in my oven, it’s like my oven would just ruin my herbs, so thank you for this advice.

  10. I love drying herbs! I must often hang mine in bundles in my pantry, but I have also oven dried them. I preheat the oven to 200 while I’m preparing my herbs to go in, then turn it off as I slide them in. Usually once it’s completely cool, they’re perfectly dried. If not, I will take them out, preheat again, turn it back off and do the process again, checking them periodically. I’ve never managed to mess this up, somehow!

  11. Thank you for you blog could you please suggest me how dry vanilla beans and any other tips to dry vanilla thank you

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