Monday, September 17, 2012

How to Dry Fresh Herbs Without a Dehydrator

When Husband and I started cooking from scratch, it didn’t take long for us to learn that herbs and spices are a magic money saver. You can change the taste of the same basic protein, vegetable, and starch combination to a new dish every night of the week with herbs and spices.  If only they weren’t so expensive!

One way I save money on herbs and spices is to buy them at a store that sells them in bulk. I can buy the amount I need, often in larger amount for the price of the same thing in a small jar. I wash and refill the old spice bottles with the bulk spices. Who knew the jar added to much expense to the price of the stuff inside it?

Another way I save money is to grow herb plants. I have mint in pots on my patio, and Chinese and Genovese Basil, Cilantro tucked in my front garden.  

Genovese Basil
Genovese Basil from my garden

Unfortunately, when the winter snows come, there go the garden fresh organic herbs. This year, I decided to take my cue from the small furry squirrels that are currently gathering nuts for their winter siesta and try my hand at preserving fresh herbs from my herb garden for winter.

Drying Herbs


dried basilThe thing with drying herbs comes down to timing. It’s best that the moisture leaves the herb quickly for maximum flavor. However, if you dry the herb too long and at too high a temperature, you will fry the herb and lose a lot of the flavor in the process. I don’t recommend drying herbs in the oven or drying herbs in the microwave.

One way to get around this issue is to dry your herbs in an electric food dehydrator. Most electric food dehydrators have temperature controls and timers so you can easily set the dehydrator to do its thing and in a short amount of time come back to nice dry herbs ready for an airtight container in your pantry or cupboard. If you don’t own your own food dehydrator you might be able to borrow one from a friend or relative (just return it to the owner in a clean state in a reasonable amount of time please.)

I don’t use a food dehydrator to dry herbs for one simple reason: I don’t have one.
I still successfully dry fresh herbs without a food dehydrator. The key is to allow air to circulate around the herbs while they are drying so the herbs dry evenly and do not mildew due to moisture buildup. That’s why when I first tried drying herbs on a cookie sheet it didn’t work.

Three Cheap and Easy Ways to Dry Fresh Herbs


how to dry herbs without a dehydrator


I wash garden herbs in a calendar and let them drain. Then I use one of three methods to dry my herbs.

  • Drying herbs in a paper bag. I pat the washed herbs dry or let them dry on a paper towel for a day. I put the herb leaves in a small paper bag (one herb per bag please) and put the bag in a cool dry place. Every once and awhile I shake the bag to loosen the herbs and check if they are completely dry or not. Once the herbs are completely dry, I transfer them to an airtight container (leftover spice bottles work well for this project) and store them in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard or pantry for further use. I use this method all the time.


drying herbs in a paper bag
I ask the grocery store for an empty wine bag to use for drying herbs.
  • Hanging dried herbs.  This works is best for drying herbs with small leaves like thyme, or when it is time to cut back the plants in your herb garden. I cut the stalks of the plant and tie them into a bundle using a rubber band, string, ribbon, etc. Then I hang the herb bundle upside down in a cool, dark and moisture free place to dry. Once the herbs are completely dry, I transfer the leaves to airtight containers and store them in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard or pantry for further use.

hanging dried herbs
  
  • Drying racks for herbs. You can buy an elevated drying rack or DIY an herb drying rack with  a piece of cheesecloth or paper towel on a wire cake rake. I put the herbs on the drying rack and put the herb drying rack in a cool moisture free place to dry. You can cover the rack with an extra piece of cheesecloth if you are concerned about dust getting on your herbs while they are drying. Again, once the herbs are completely dry, I transfer the leaves to airtight containers and store them in a cool dark place, such as a cupboard or pantry for further use.

drying racks for herbs


If you don’t have a garden, you can dry fresh grocery store herbs before they spoil. 

How do you save money on herbs and spices?


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