Fall is quickly approaching and our gardens are about to transition as well, but before they do, don't forget to utilize your leftover herbals by drying them and saving them for the season ahead.
Why Dry Herbs
One of the best parts of growing your own herbs, is the ability to dry them come fall. Abundant culinary and medicinal herbs can easily be dried and stored for use all winter long. With just a little effort you too can enjoy the freshest, most vibrant tasting dried herbs you've ever had.
Building Your Own Apothecary
Once you know how to dry and store your own garden-fresh herbs you can get going on building your home apothecary! From culinary herbs for cooking, to medicinal herbs for tea, and even flowers for botanical dying - drying your own herbs and storing them is a great way to start building your home apothecary from your very own garden. Sometimes the best apothecaries are the simplest and most homespun.
When To Harvest Your Herbs
Though harvesting herbs is best during their peak season vitality, I always like to take advantage of the change in seasons to clean up the garden and squeeze as much medicine from it as I can. Before the weather changes and things cool down, I'll go through and harvest the last leaves and blooms from the garden and dry them for culinary purposes come fall and winter. My favorite herbs to do this with include oregano, basil, tarragon, summer savory, and other herbs that won't be abundant through winter. You can also do this with thyme and rosemary, though I notice those tend to hold up through the winter months.
The day before I want to harvest the herbs I'll go to the garden and give them a good spray down with the hose so that they are pre-washed for my harvest the next day. They should be dry by the time you go to collect them the following morning. I always try to harvest plants in the early morning hours, though dusk (when it's cool) is another good time of day to collect.
I clip the herbs off at the base of the stem, and then either remove the leaves before drying (for basil, tarragon, and rosemary) or dry in whole sprigs if working with oregano or thyme. Some herbs like oregano are easier to remove the leaves from when dried, and others like thyme I use as a whole sprig when cooking. Make sure to read through the drying methods below first to see which one you will use before pulling the leaves from your stems. No matter which method you use, as soon as you harvest the herbs you'll want to bring them inside and start the drying process right away.
How To Dry Herbs
+ Different Methods Of Drying
There are a few different methods you can use to dry your herbs depending on the tools and supplies you have at home. There are other methods beyond the ones I've listed, but these are simple and easy and can mostly be done using what you have at home.
1. Hang Upside Down
The simplest, oldest, and easiest way to dry herbs is by making them into a little bundle, tying them with twine around the stems, and hanging them upside down in the kitchen. You'll want to be sure to take the herbs down as soon as they're dry, as they can begin to collect dust and mites if you leave them too long. Once you take them down, remove the leaves from the stems and store.
2. Dry on Screens
This is one of my favorite methods for drying culinary and medicinal herbs. For this methods you prepare your herbs (by either removing the leaves/flowers from the stems or leaving them whole) and you simply lay them out on old large window screens in a well ventilated room for a 3-5 days until they are dry. Remove from screens promptly and store in glass jars.
3. Dry In The Oven
This method is also great but only works in old gas stoves with a pilot light. To use this method simply prepare your herbs and lay them on cookie sheets and then put in the oven (with the oven tuned off) for a few days. This method is particularly helpful with roots, bark, and berries or things that may have a tendency to mold. The ambient temperature of the oven creates a warm dry space for quick drying. This method will not work if you turn the oven on, as even the lowest heat will damage the herbs. Be careful not to accidentally light your oven either! You'll have very singed and crispy herbs that won't be good for much.
There are number of fancy dehydrators you can buy in the herbal world, but they can range in price and are usually at least a few hundred dollars. The Excalibur is a popular model in herbalism and might be a good investment if you dry lots of plants from your yard, including fruit, etc.. I personally do not own one of these dehydrators, but if I was farming herbs on a bigger scale I would definitely invest in one. Dehydrators preserve the phytochemicals and vibrancy well, and quickly dry herbs so they can be stored in air tight container ASAP.
How To Store
Now that you have beautiful, garden-fresh dried herbs, you're going to want to store them properly so that they keep well and stay fresh for long-term use! The best way to store herbs (in my opinion) is in air-tight glass jars, stored out of the sun. You'll want to be sure to label your jars with the date, herb type, and where it was harvested from as well. Herbs stored like this can be kept fresh for a year at least, and even a little longer if needed. As with any food preserving method, for the freshest product you'll want to use it within a year or season.
Interested In Learning More?
To learn more about building your home apothecary, check out my free online class or take a big leap and really hone in on your home herbal skills in my Herbal Path Apprenticeship.
The Herbal Path 9-Month Apprenticeship
Are you ready to embrace the inner healer that was always meant to be? Join Clinical Registered Herbalist, Holistic Nutritionist, Biologist/Natural Historian, and Energetic Healer, Anna Marie Beauchemin, on a 9-month journey to re-ignite the spark of healing herbal intuition and earth-based wisdom that we were all innately born with. In this 9-month program we will learn to walk the Herbal Path, by using herbs, foods, seasonality, and earth-centered practices to nourish our own life and the lives of people close to us. To learn more, click the image below!