People often ask me how to dry herbs so that you can use them later on and that’s a really great question that I’d like to share some insights into. Essentially drying herbs is not hard, but there are a few tricks of the trade that are useful to share with you.
Gather on a dry day: damp herbs do not dry well. Preferably gather in the late morning, after the dew has dried, but before the heat of the day takes it’s grip. But, also, if you only have later on in the day to do your herb work, then grab that moment!
If you have plants growing in your garden, then you can have the luxury of gathering them over time, just taking some leaves of flowers when they seem at their best.
Remove any withered parts of the plant.
How to dry:
Depending on space available, either:
- Chop up and lay on paper inside a basket or other container with holes in. Place somewhere reasonably dark with ventilation/ airing cupboard.
- Hanging in bunches, either tied together or in paper bags, somewhere dry (not a damp room).
- Chop up and place onto an oven tray and heat on the lowest temperature until the herb is completely dry. Also dehydrator is a great option is you have one.
- Buy one of these awesome herb drying contraptions online. Just search for haning herb drying rack. They’re affordable and really work well. Just hang it somewhere out of direct sunlight, with good airflow.
After a few days-to a week, test to see whether you think the herbs are really dry all the way through. If so, they’re ready to store. Ideally you want their colour to be preserved in the drying process. Some herbs fade more than others. A few more things to bare in mind at this stage:
- Mould: Dried herbs can easily get mouldy. Make sure they are completely dry before storing. Jars must be sterlised and have new or scrupulously clean lids. I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way of reusing lids.
- Insects: If you think the herb that you have gathered it’s particularly insect laden (eg meadowsweet). Lay the herbs out on a sheet, and leave for a few hours. You should see the insects crawl away when they realise what’s happened! Later on in the storing process you can sometime see that the batch has been colonised by little insects. Normally I would throw a batch away that is colonised, but some people might not mind the extra protein.
Best option is AIR TIGHT Jars (preferably coloured glass), kept out of sunlight = cool, dark, dry place.
Paper bags can work, but won’t preserve the medicinal properties for quite as long. I do keep a lot of my herbs in paper bags, that are inside plastic bags, in a chest of drawers. And they seem to last pretty well in there.
Shelf life general rule of thumb:
- Whole spices and dried herbs, leaves and flowers will keep 1 – 2 years.
- Seeds will keep 2 – 3 years and whole roots (i.e. ginger root) will keep 3 years.
- Ground spices and herb leaves keep 1 year.
- Ground roots will keep 2 years.
What to do with the dried herbs:
- You can make various preparations from dried herbs. The most common use is probably making a herbal infusion (tea) or simmering to make a decoction (generally for roots, berries and harder parts of the plant).
- You can also make tinctures (alcoholic extractions) from dried herbs. Although I generally prefer to do this with fresh herbs.
- Other options are syrups, glycerites, vinegars. Look out for future blog posts on how to make there preparations.
The great thing about drying herbs is that you never know when exactly you’re going to need a particular herb. You could be really grateful, come mid winter when you’re down with a sore throat and cold, that you dried that sage or that elderflower. Being empowered to help ourselves with our day-to-day health is what I love so much about herbal medicine.