- Author: Daniel Patrick
- Published: August 28, 2022
Herbs are one of the most popular types of plants to grow at home. Their most common use is for cooking (to add flavor), but you can also use them for making a variety of natural remedies.
Many herbs are very easy to grow indoors and outdoors, regardless of how much space you have. Most should be grown by planting seeds, but some can be propagated using cuttings from existing plants.
Either way, homegrown herbs are a cheaper alternative to buying herbs. They don’t stay fresh for long, though, so you may be unable to use your whole harvest before it starts going bad. You can get around this issue by learning how to dry and store herbs.
My guide to drying and storing homegrown herbs includes the best drying methods, tips for storing dry herbs, and some alternative options for preserving herbs.
Recommended Reading: Our short guide to drying fresh herbs versus freezing them will help you decide on the best approach for specific herbs.
Best Methods for Drying Homegrown Herbs
There are a few different ways to dry your homegrown herbs. I recommend the following.
- Air drying
- Oven drying
- Microwave drying
Here’s some further information on each of these methods
Air drying is the simplest way to dry your herbs. It’s especially good for herbs with larger leaves, such as mint and basil. Although it takes a little longer than other methods, the herbs retain their flavor much better.
You can dry herbs in bundles if you want, but I recommend spreading the individual leaves or sprigs across a metal rack or baking tray. You should line the rack or tray with a light cloth, kitchen towel, or something similar.
For the best results, place the herbs in a warm location that’s out of direct sunlight. Avoid breezy spots where the herbs could blow away, and turn them once or twice a day.
Depending on the temperature and humidity, the herbs will take a few days to dry with this method. You can tell they’re thoroughly dried once they crumble when pressed.
There are several reasons why oven drying is a popular way to dry homegrown herbs. It’s very straightforward, pretty quick, and there’s little chance of the herbs rotting or spoiling.
The downside is that you can burn your herbs if you’re not careful. Optimal timings and temperatures depend on what oven you’re using and what herbs you’re drying, and you might need to experiment until you get it right.
I recommend using the lowest temperature setting at first. Most herbs will fully dry out within an hour, even in a slightly warm oven, and you can always increase the temperature if you need to.
As with air drying, the best approach is to spread the herbs evenly on a lined baking tray or metal rack. Once they’re in the oven, check them roughly every 20 minutes to turn them and ensure they’re not burning.
Top Tip: Leaving the oven door ajar will allow excess moisture to escape and prevent the oven from getting too hot.
Oven drying is best suited for sturdy herbs such as rosemary and thyme. Using a food dehydrator instead of an oven works well if you have one.
Microwaving is the quickest way to dry your herbs and works particularly well with small quantities. It’s the best option for chives and other delicate herbs, but it’s okay for pretty much any herb.
All you need to do is put the herbs in a microwavable dish and cover them with a paper towel. Microwave them on full power for a minute and then check if they’re dry. If they’re not, keep microwaving them for 30 seconds at a time until they are.
Storing Dried Herbs
How and where you store your dried herbs doesn’t really matter if you plan to use them relatively soon. However, if you want them to last a while, they’ll need suitable conditions.
Using the proper containers is vital. Airtight containers will help keep dried herbs fresh for months and potentially even years. I like to use reasonably small containers that I can fill almost completely.
Top Tip: Make sure you label each container with the herb’s name and date of drying. Labeling is essential if you’re storing lots of different herbs.
Before you add your herbs to containers, I suggest you crumble them and remove any stiff stems. You can do this with your fingers, but a pestle and mortar will be more effective.
In terms of location, somewhere cool and dark will help your herbs maintain their flavor and freshness.
Storing and Preserving Fresh Herbs
You have other options if you don’t want to dry your herbs. You can store them in the fridge if you’re going to use them soon or freeze them if you plan to keep them for later use.
There are also a few alternative methods for preserving herbs. Here are some of the better ones.
- Preserving herbs with alcohol. Place your herbs in a glass jar and cover them entirely with vodka. The alcohol will help them keep their flavor for several months.
- Herb ice cubes. Put the herbs in an ice cube tray, fill it with water, and place it in the freezer overnight. Remove the cubes from the tray and then store them in the freezer in a suitable container.
- Preserving herbs in vinegar. Shred your herbs, soak them in vinegar, then store them in a cold and dark location.
- Herb salt. Add salt to finely chopped herbs and blend until thoroughly combined. Then place in an airtight container and store in the fridge.
Other methods for preserving herbs include making herb butter, herb salt, and herb capsules. You can also preserve herbs in oil.
Many alternative methods are best if you want to use your herbs for specific purposes. For example, you can preserve basil by making pesto. Preserving herbs in oil is ideal if you want to make herbal-infused oil for culinary or medicinal use.
- 5 Ways to Preserve Your Herbs Including Making Pesto (TraditionalCookingSchool.com)
- How to Make Herb-Infused Oils (TheHerbalAcademy.com)
Herb Drying and Storage FAQ
Here are my answers to a few commonly asked questions about drying and storing herbs.
Should You Dry Herb Leaves in Single Layers?
I recommend doing so, yes. Drying herb leaves in a single layer will prevent them from clumping together and retaining moisture. It will also help them keep their flavor and color for longer.
Can You Overdry Herbs?
Yes, it’s possible. You’ll overdry herbs if you keep drying them after they’ve lost all their moisture. Overdrying affects their flavor and potency, so you should regularly monitor herbs while drying them.
How Long Do Homegrown Dried Herbs Last?
The useful lifetime of dried herbs depends on the type of herb, the drying technique used, and the storage method. Most herbs can last at least a year if they are correctly dried, stored in an airtight container, and kept in a cool, dark location.
Can You Dry Herbs by Hanging Them Upside Down?
Yes, you can dry herbs by hanging them upside down. But this is not the best way to do it, as the herbs will probably lose their flavor and color. I recommend using one of the other methods listed in this article.
Should You Wash Herbs Before Drying Them?
Yes, you should wash herbs before starting to dry them. Any dirt or debris on the leaves can cause mold or rot when the herbs are stored. Washing also helps to reduce the bitterness of some herbs.
You can either wash the herbs under cold running water or submerge them in a bowl of cold water. After rinsing, gently pat them dry with a paper towel and hang them in a well-ventilated area.
You’ll likely want to use some of your homegrown herbs while they’re fresh. Drying and storing them, or preserving them in other ways, will help you get maximum use out of them. This is especially true if you grow many different herbs in significant quantities.
There are plenty of uses for homegrown herbs, whether fresh or dried, and growing herbs is also a great way to get kids started in gardening. So, if you’re not yet growing herbs at home, what are you waiting for?
The following guide has some helpful advice to get you started.