Though picking fresh herbs for each meal is ideal, that’s not always possible. The winter will spell the demise for much all of your annual herb garden. Even perennial herbs will stop growing fresh, fragrant leaves. Though you can grow many herbs indoors, this will never match the scale of an outdoor garden.
It is easy to start an herb garden. You can even use food scraps to get started! Having herbs available can do far more than just spice up a meal. If you already have a bounty of fresh herbs in your garden, you should take advantage year-round!
Drying fresh herbs is a great way to keep your pantry stocked and your meals exciting. When your herbs are dry they will keep for up to a year. In this article, we will teach you how to preserve plants by drying herbs.
Harvesting fresh herbs
The first step to preserving your fresh herbs is harvesting! Here are a few tricks you can use to make sure that your herbs are as flavorful as possible.
When to harvest your herb garden
The best time to harvest most herbs is in the morning, immediately after the dew evaporates. The leaves will have the most essential oils before the sun has directly hit the plants. Picking new growing tips will also yield more fragrant herbs.
The season is also an important consideration when harvesting herbs. Herbs harvested for their leaves should be picked before they begin to flower. Once flowers appear herbs generally become less fragrant and more bitter.
Seeds should be harvested when the pods begin to change color, but before they break open.
If you start harvesting early you can harvest far more by allowing the plant to regrow.
How to harvest your herbs
Though each herb will do best under different conditions, there are some broad rules to harvesting. When harvesting herbs it is important to leave enough of the plant intact that it can continue to grow. It is generally best to leave 3-5 inches above the ground to allow further growth.
An important technique to use when harvesting any herb is pinching. This is when you remove the herbs immediately above a pair of leaves (or node). By pinching the stem at this location, you will encourage two new stems to grow between the remaining leaves. This technique encourages your plants to become bushier, producing more delicious herbs. Start early and you will have a bounty of herbs by the end of the season.
Continue to harvest your annual herbs up until the last frost. Once it freezes you will have to start over anyways! Perennial herbs should be harvested less aggressively. Harvest them until there is about a month before the first frost. This will give them a chance to store nutrients and energy for the winter.
Drying fresh herbs
There are many options when it comes to drying herbs. The key is to retain the flavor and aroma by keeping in the essential oils. There are many different ways to go about drying your herbs. Here we will cover the easiest and most effective methods for drying herbs at home.
Air drying should be done in a warm dry area for good results. If you live in a humid climate or do not have a warm, covered area to dry your herbs we recommend trying another method. If not, this method can be effective and can look great!
- Take a cluster of stems and bind them together in a small bundle. A rubber band or twist tie works great.
- Hang them upside-down in a warm dry area with good airflow. If you are hanging them in the kitchen avoid areas near the sink, dishwasher or other sources of moisture.
- If your herbs have seeds in them, you can place the bundle inside a paper bag.
- Punch holes in the bag to allow airflow.
- Hang these bags upside down like the bundles.
This method can take several days before your herbs are entirely dry.
Drying herbs with a food dehydrator
If you are willing to make a bit of an investment, a food dehydrator is a great way to dry herbs. These devices can cost between $30-400. A good food dehydrator can save a lot of money in the long run by reducing food waste.
Food dehydrators work like very low power ovens. They heat your herbs at a low temperature. A fan provides airflow. Using a food dehydrator can greatly speed the process of drying herbs.
Drying herbs in a microwave
- Place your herbs in a single layer between paper towels.
- Microwave the herbs in 30-second increments, moving them each time. Depending on the herbs and the power of your microwave this can take 1-4 minutes.
- Keep a close eye on your microwave as dry paper towels can catch fire!
There are plenty of other methods for drying herbs. Oven drying and the sun drying are some other options. These methods can work but also risk burning, discoloring or losing the flavor of your herbs. Freezing herbs is another strategy for preserving fresh herbs during the offseason. If you have a method that works great for you, please share it in the comments!
Storing your dried herbs
Before you put your herbs away, it is to make sure that they are completely dry. Residual moisture will encourage mold and bacteria, destroying your harvest.
Check that the leaves crumble easily. When they do, they are ready to go! Remove the leaves from the stem and place them in a solid container, like a Tupperware. Though you can store herbs in a plastic bag, keeping the leaves intact will help retain more flavor. You can keep herbs for up to a year if they are stored in a cool, dry place with little to no sunlight.