Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Drying herbs

I'm completely stoked that I have a new toy: a dehydrator! So far I've dried my own peppermint and basil, and it is awesome. Herbalists, gardeners, and other crafty people have wondered what the best method is to dry herbs, so,  In lieu of my new toy, I'm going to discuss drying methods.

Air drying herbs is the most common -- and probably most green -- way of drying. It is also inexpensive and relatively easy. Most importantly, though, air drying herbs doesn't rob the herbs of their important essential oils. However, this method works best for less moist herbs, such as Rosemary and Thyme. Air drying consists of tying herbs together in a bundle of 4 to 6 stems, removing the lower leaves, and hanging upside down in a cool, dry, and dark place. Another air drying method involves bag drying, which is essentially air drying the bundle of herbs in paper bags. Likewise, the herbs are hung upside down, and holes are punctured into the paper bags to allow air to circulate.

Room drying herbs on a tray works best for large-leafed herbs with long stems, such as Basil. Use a screen window for this process; it allows the air to circulate. Place the herbs on the screens and stack them. Cover with paper towels or cheesecloth. Place in a proped, warm location, where air can circulate. Check the herbs the next day and turn them over so they will dry evenly.

Oven drying herbs consists of placing herbs on a cookie sheet and warming them for a few hours at approximately 180 degrees F. The oven door should be opened slightly to allow circulation. I personally do not recommend this method for drying herbs; it can "cook" the herbs a bit, which removes essential oils and flavors. Don't leave oven-drying herbs unattended!

Drying herbs with a dehydrator may be one of the best drying methods, particularly for moist herbs such as basil and mint. An added bonus to using a dehydrator is that your home is filled with an herbal scent! When I dried my peppermint, I was delighted by the aroma. If the herbs you wish to dry are from your own garden, you only need to inspect the herbs for dirt and bugs. Wash the herbs in hot water throughly and leave to air dry for a bit. Dehydrators come with an instructional booklet, so follow the book's instructions as to how to dry the particular herbs you wish to dry.

If you plan to wash your herbs, I don't recommend press-drying. It is a great method of drying flowers for science and plant identification classes, but in my experience it's not the best for herbs. Then again, I dried some of my own soapwort this way (which I washed previously) and the soapwort became moldy during the drying process. That said, whatever method you do choose to use, it's important to store your herbs well; be sure to store in an airtight bag to prevent molding. Discard any molded herbs. Place out of sunlight, in a cool, dark place.

Air dryed lavender. Photo (c) S. Waters

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