It’s planting time around these parts, and I’ve got plants and seeds and soil on the brain. Everything in Normandy seems to grow and thrive like gangbusters. Last year, we had so many herbs on our hands, I didn’t know what to do with our loot! So I asked Lindsey of Cafe Johnsonia to teach us how to dry herbs — I don’t want to waste a sprig! — Gabrielle
Spring is here and my little garden is already springing forth with herbs. I love to enjoy them fresh all through the warmer months. When it starts to turn cold out, I start harvesting my herbs so I can dry them to use all winter long too. Hopefully this will inspire you to get your hands dirty and plant a little herb garden to enjoy all year long — fresh and dried. This is the perfect time to plant seeds or seedlings for a boom crop. (Check your local garden centers for seedlings and advice on planting herbs in your climate.) Or if gardening isn’t your thing, maybe this will prevent you from throwing away the extra fresh herbs you bought and can’t use up.
There are some herbs that are definitely better fresh than dried, but when you dry them yourself, you are able to better preserve the essential oils in the herbs and they are infinitely fresher than the dried herbs you’ll find on the supermarket shelves.
The herbs I like to dry most are: sage, thyme, rosemary, oregano, mint, tarragon, and basil. These are the herbs we use most in our kitchen. Herbs like cilantro and parsley are so inexpensive to buy fresh, that I don’t bother drying them. Laurel or Bay leaves are very easy to dry, if you’re lucky enough to have them growing in your garden.
Start out by cutting large, sturdy stems of your herb of choice. If you aren’t planning on drying them immediately, you can store them in jars of water as you would fresh flowers. The best time of day to harvest herbs is in the morning. The best time to harvest herbs during the growing season is when they are plentiful and lush — not when they are starting to wilt and have dried out from the summer heat. Some herbs grow well into the fall (sage, parsley, rosemary, thyme), so use them fresh until the frost comes and harvest those you want to dry before the first hard frost.
1) Carefully wash each stem by swishing it in a bowl of cool water. Allow them to air dry on a cooling rack or strainer, or by gently blotting with a soft towel.
2) Carefully weave twine through the sturdiest bottom stems and the main stem. Leave a good length of string at the end.
3) Hang herbs upside down in an area that is cool and dry. I prefer to hang mine in my kitchen because I’m in there every day and I don’t forget to check on them.
4) Each day or so, inspect herbs for any signs of mold or pests (spiders), and turn them if necessary (only if they’re against a wall like those pictured). If there are any leaves that have mold, remove them and any leaves immediately around the area. If you are worried about pests getting to the herbs, particularly if you are drying them in the basement, wrap cheese cloth around the herbs and secure it with more twine. Check more often for any signs of mold.
5) When the leaves are completely dry (anywhere from a few days to 1-2 weeks, depending on where you live — humid climates take much longer than dry ones), carefully remove the dry leaves from the stems and place in an airtight plastic bag or glass jar.
I save jam and old herb/spice jars just for this purpose. You can store whole leaves, or crush them between your fingers before storing them. I prefer to crush the leaves right before I use them in a recipe.
The herbs will keep well in a dark, dry cupboard for months and months.
If you’d rather not hang up the herb stems, or you don’t have a place to hang them, removing the leaves from the stems before drying works exceptionally well too. I do this when I dry the oregano from my garden.
I layer paper towels on a rimmed baking sheet and scatter the clean leaves (they don’t have to be dry) evenly over the towels. Cover with another layer of towels and allow to air dry for several days. Alternatively, this can be done more quickly in an oven placed on the lowest setting, wedging a wooden spoon in the door to keep it ajar. This will darken the leaves drastically, but happily, it will not affect their flavor.
One last note: the rule of thumb when using dried herbs is to use about 1/4 or 1/2 less herbs than fresh in a recipe, and vice versa. If you have any advice or questions for me, please leave them in the comments and I’ll respond promptly.
Enjoy your herbs!