There is nothing like the fragrance of fresh herbs growing in your organic vegetable garden, except of course the scent of herbs filling your kitchen as you cook. To get the most out of your herbs, you’ll want to dry them after harvesting. Dried herbs can be kept out of direct sunlight in jars for up to a year before needing to be replaced and are more potent than their fresh counterparts. Generally, dried herbs are three times as strong as fresh herbs.
When to harvest herbs
Harvesting times vary by herb species and plant anatomy. When harvesting leaves, pick just as the plant begins to form buds because their oils will be at their highest levels. If you are harvesting flowers, such as chamomile, harvest them when they are newly opened.
Hang drying herbs
The idea of hang drying your herbs can conjure images of bunches of Italian herbs hanging from wooden rafters of villas in the Old Country. However, you probably shouldn’t hang your herbs in the kitchen because they will absorb all the odors and debris that come with cooking and it will diminish the quality of the herbs. This method of drying is ideal for herbs that are long-stemmed and fast-drying such as lavender, sage, rosemary or mints. Mountain Rose Herbs has a great chart detailing which herbs are best for this method.
Tie herb springs into bunches of 10 and find a dry, out-of-the-way room with good air circulation and indirect sunlight in which to hang the herbs. Keep an eye on them to ensure they are losing moisture and not growing mildew. In one to two weeks, they should be ready to be stored. Herbs are finished drying when the leaves break off easily. If they are over-dried they will turn to dust when crumbled and will have lost their potency.
Oven drying herbs
This method of herb drying is undeniably the fastest, but it requires the most attention. You need to be careful that you don’t over-dry the herbs because it will make them less potent. Some herbs, such as sage, will also catch on fire easily and may not be suitable for this method of drying.
Pluck the leaves or flowers off their stems and place them on a tray. The oven should be heated between 350 and 400 degrees. Herbs should be dried in about five to ten minutes and will be brittle. If the herbs aren’t freshly picked, reduce the heat by 100 degrees.