The lowdown on DRYING HERBS
Drying homegrown herbs extends their shelf-life and gets you through the winter months. Here's how to keep their flavour, aroma and colour.
Fresh is best when it comes to herbs, but it’s not always possible to have fresh herbs over the cooler months. To guarantee a year-round supply, preserve your herbs by drying them.
The aim of drying herbs is to remove the water content while retaining the oil. You want your herbs to keep most of their flavour and fragrance. To do that, you need to harvest when the oil content is at its highest, which is typically just before your plants flower, for leaves, or just before flowers open, if harvesting the flowers.
Harvest herbs on a dry, sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. This is important as moisture on plants can encourage mould to develop. Pick early in the morning too, before the sun gets too hot, otherwise the oils will evaporate.
Cut healthy-looking stems, strip the lower leaves from each stem and tie in small bunches to allow the leaves to dry quickly. Hang in a room that has good air circulation and warmth but not heat, as heat destroys the oils. Also make sure they’re out of direct sunlight – a darkened room is ideal.
You can dry individual leaves and flower heads on a cake rack, slatted tray or paper. If drying on paper, turn the leaves several times a day to ensure the air circulates around the leaves. On a drying rack, you can place a piece of muslin down first if you wish, but turn the leaves occasionally.
Temperature, humidity, moisture content and size of leaf will determine the drying time, but it usually takes a week or two. The leaves will be crisp when dry.
Once dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store, whole, in airtight containers in the dark (such as a cupboard).
Some herbs do not retain their flavour very well after drying. These include basil, chervil, chives, dill leaves, parsley and tarragon. These can be frozen instead (see instructions on the right).
You can use the oven to dry your herbs. Arrange herbs on an oven tray and place in the oven on the very lowest temperature possible. This will take several hours. They are ready when the leaves are brittle.
You can also use a food dehydrator, or even a microwave for quick results. Place a single layer of herbs in between two paper towels and zap in the microwave on high for 1-2 minutes. Allow the leaves to cool. If they are brittle they are ready. If not, put them in the microwave again for 20-30 seconds at a time.