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Dried Herbs

How to Dry Your Own Herbs

Learn various methods for drying herbs.

If you're lucky enough to have cultivated or volunteer herbs growing in your garden, you'll want to know the best way to dry them to preserve color and flavor. You have several options. Here's how:

To harvest and prepare herbs

* Cut the herbs when they're at their best. (Don't wait until they're past their prime.) For many herbs, this is just before they flower, when the leaves contain the most oil.

* Mid-morning, after the dew has dried, is often a good time of day for harvesting. Early evening also works, but avoid the hottest midday sun.

* Cut your herbs, using a sharp knife or scissors. If you plan to hang your herbs to dry, cut them close to the ground, leaving the stem intact when possible.

* Shake to remove any insects. Remove any damaged leaves.

* If not perfectly clean, rinse the herbs in cold water to remove any dirt, then gently shake off moisture. Spin in a salad spinner, if you have one, or blot dry with clean towels.

To hang herbs to dry

herbs

* Tie small bunches of your herbs together with cotton string. (Make smaller bunches of herbs if they have high moisture content.)

* Hang the bunches of herbs, leafy side down, in a dark, dry place. A closet, an attic, or an unused bedroom with drawn shades are good choices. Keep the herbs out of direct sun, but provide good ventilation (run a fan occasionally, if necessary). For hanging, you can string a clothesline or use a laundry rack or closet pole.

* If the herbs are likely to get dusty in the area you've chosen, cover each bunch with a brown paper bag. (Tie shut over the herbs at stem end, or punch a hole in the bottom of the bag and pull the string through the hole.) Punch a few extra holes in the bag for added ventilation. You might want to write the name of the herb and the date on the bag.

* Leave the herbs until they are dry. The amount of time will depend on the herbs, but most will take about two weeks. Some small-leafed herbs will dry more quickly, while other, larger-leafed herbs will take longer.

* When completely dried, strip the leaves from the stems.

To dry herbs on a tray

* Spread a single layer of herbs on a tray.

* Place the tray in a dry, warm, dark place with good air circulation.

* Check the herbs every day or two and stir them occasionally to make sure they dry evenly.

* When the leaves are completely dry (this might take a week or so), remove from tray.

You can speed the drying process using a microwave or conventional oven. In fact, these methods may be preferable if humidity in your area makes mildew a problem for you.

To dry herbs in a microwave:

* Take the harvested leaves off the stems, and set them on a drying rack to air dry.

* When dry, place in a single layer on a clean paper towel or plate and lay another paper towel on top.

* Microwave for 30 seconds on high. Check and heat again for another 30 seconds at a time, until the herbs are completely dry. Some will be dry in a minute or so, while others will take up to 4 minutes. (It's easy to over-dry herbs in a microwave, so it's best to check frequently.)

* Remove from microwave and allow to cool on a rack.

To dry herbs in an oven:

* Heat oven to 180 degrees F (maximum; you could use an even cooler oven for a longer time).

* Spread a single layer of the herbs on a cookie sheet.

* Place in the oven, leaving the door open.

* Check every 30 minutes, and stir occasionally to encourage even drying.

* When herbs are dry (it may take up to 4 hours), remove from sheet and allow to cool.

Whatever method you use, here's a way to test if your herbs are dry: place a little piece of the herb in a jar, with the lid on, in a warm, sunny spot. If you see moisture condensing inside the jar, then the herb isn't yet completely dry.

Store your dried herbs in an airtight container away from light.

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