How To Dry Your Own Herbs To Use For Cooking, Skin Care & More
From the beauty cabinet to our kitchen cupboards, dried herbs have a myriad of uses for so many needs. And if you're tired of letting fresh herbs go to waste or spending too much on dried herbs, drying your own is the perfect solution.
If you're new to it, herbs like tarragon, bay, mint, lemon balm, lavender, rosemary, and thyme are some of the best to start with. There are lots of ways to dry them, and even more ways to use them up. Here's how, from herbal teacher and co-author of The Handmade Apothecary and The Herbal Remedy Handbook Kim Walker.
How to dry herbs:
Air- or hang-drying:
Air-drying really couldn't be easier. As Walker explains, all you need is a kitchen towel and a flat surface to get started. Simply gather your herbs, lay them on the towel, and store once they're completely dry. (As a rule of thumb, always make sure your herbs are clean before drying.)
Hang-drying is a great way to air-dry if you don't want to use up table or counter space. "This works best for herbs that have a good strong stem, like lavender, rosemary, or culinary herbs," Walker notes. Tie a small bunch with a piece of string using a knot that won't come undone but still allows for airflow between stems. You can also try tying a bag around the bunch so if any pieces fall out, they won't fall on the floor.
"You don't want things to go moldy, so you need enough airflow," she adds. Along with good airflow, they'll ideally be hung somewhere warm and dry. Avoid direct sunlight, particularly with herbs like rosemary or lemon balm, which can go black in the sun.
And for the true herbal enthusiasts, Walker adds there are collapsible mesh racks available today specifically for drying herbs.
In the oven:
To dry your herbs in the oven, you'll need to get it as low as 50 degrees Celsius or 122 degrees Fahrenheit. If your oven doesn't get that low, residual heat from the oven after you've turned it off will do the trick.
"The important thing is to have the door open a bit to let the moisture escape," Walker says. "And you do have to keep your eye on them because you want to dehydrate them—not cook them." Place your herbs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, have the oven fan running, and rotate your tray throughout the drying process. Check in on your herbs every 15 minutes or so. As soon as they're completely dry to the touch, take them out. It will likely take one to two hours.
In a dehydrator:
Dehydrators are a great option if you're looking to dry herbs quickly. Plus, with a dehydrator, you don't run the risk of accidentally cooking them, as you do with an oven.
In the microwave:
And lastly, you can dry your herbs in a microwave, though Walker doesn't recommend this. "The microwave is quite a high temperature," she says. "You don't want to cook the herbs, and we have no research on what the microwave might be doing to the constituents in the plant." Stick to air-drying if you can, but if you're in a pinch, lay your herbs between two paper towels and microwave them for a minute. If they're not done, microwave for 20 to 30 seconds at a time until they're ready.
How to store dried herbs.
All you need to store your herbs once they're dry is an airtight container and somewhere dark. The focus is on reducing oxidation, Walker explains, and, of course, preventing pests. This will prolong the shelf life of the herb, so they don't lose their scent or flavor as fast.
"I prefer to keep my herbs as whole as possible," she adds. "I'll store nettle leaves dried as leaves, for example. The more you crush it up, the more the plant can break down chemically and medicinally. So, if you'll be keeping them for a long time, keep bigger pieces and crush them up when it's time to use them."
Lastly, if you want to display your dried herbs, go for darker glass, to keep light out. "But as long as you keep them in a cupboard where the light won't get them," Walker says, "glass color doesn't really matter."
The benefits of home drying:
You know how fresh they are.
Fresher means more flavor! Drying your own herbs allows you to get a better sense of their shelf life, as you'll notice changes in scent and appearance. "You'll be able to see what a good-quality dried herb looks like when you first dry them," Walker says, "so you can watch the changes." She adds most should keep for about a year, and the idea is to "harvest and dry as the seasons come along and preserve it for that year until it's in season again."
You can save money.
Dried herbs can be expensive, but when you make your own, not only are you limiting fresh herb waste, but you'll save yourself money in the long run. And not for nothing, dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor than fresh, making them perfect for lots of recipes.
How to use dried herbs:
Very basically, you can of course use your dried herbs for cooking. With freshly dried basil, dill, and oregano, doesn't a spice rack of your own dried herbs just sound more appealing?
Here's where things get cool: Certain herbs are super potent and powerful for healing. They've been used for centuries in medicinal systems like Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, so if you're experiencing a health issue, there's probably an herb that can help. Chamomile can help you fall asleep, lemon balm can help elevate your mood, thyme is great for your respiratory system—the list goes on. And lest we forget all the herbs out there that can support our immune systems, like St. John's wort and turmeric. As always, check in with your doctor before introducing any new medicinals to your routine.
Not only do herbs like sage, mint, and rosemary taste good, but they're great for your skin too. One of Walker's favorite ways to incorporate herbs into her beauty routine is with the following multipurpose, exfoliating face cleanser:
- Combine 1 heaping tablespoon of kaolin, green, or pink clay, with 1 heaping tablespoon of finely ground almonds, and 1 heaping tablespoon of finely ground herbs (i.e., rose petals, lavender, calendula, or chamomile).
- Store your mixture in an airtight container out of the light. Definitely avoid letting any water in. This mixture should keep for about 1 to 3 months.
- To use, take about a teaspoon of your mixture in the palm of your hand and add a few drops of water or rose water. Blot a test patch on the inside of your wrist first to make sure the blend won't irritate your skin. Then, massage gently into the face to exfoliate and rinse.
- If you like, you can add more water to create a cleansing milk to wash your face with.
- For more of a mask situation, smooth the paste over the face (Walker says it's OK if it is a little lumpy), and leave it on until dry. Wash off in circular motions using warm water.
The bottom line.
Drying your own herbs is easy, cost-effective, and will leave you with a lush plant arsenal at your disposal throughout the year. So, are you ready to start that herb garden yet?
Sarah Regan is a Spirituality & Relationships Writer, as well as a registered yoga instructor. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Buffalo, New York.