Why and How to Dry Your Own Herbs

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Why you should dry your own herbs and tips for how to to it properly | ourheritageofhealth.com

If you’ve ever taken a tour through an old historic house, chances are that you’ve probably seen bundles of herbs hanging from ceiling beams in the kitchen. In earlier centuries, it was very common for houses to have some sort of kitchen garden, even if it was a small one, and these gardens almost always included herbs for culinary and medicinal uses.

While herbs and herbal preparations could have been purchased at an apothecary, many households of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century were far too frugal and economical to buy herbs that they could grow themselves, essentially for free, in their own backyards. By growing, harvesting, and drying their own herbs, they were able to save money and get the best quality herbs at the same time.

Why It’s Best to Dry Your Own Herbs

1) It’s Cheaper

Drying herbs yourself is much cheaper than buying bottle of herbs in the store, especially if you grow perennial herbs in your garden. It takes a little bit of time and effort to harvest the herbs and to hang them up to dry, but it’s not really much more time than it takes to drive to the store, buy the herbs, and drive back home again, when you think about it.

If you grow perennial herbs, you have a one-time expense, and then you have a supply of fresh home-grown herbs year after year. My oregano plant, for example, keeps coming back strong every year, and it’s at the point now where I don’t even have to buy oregano anymore because my own backyard plant produces all I need.

Even if you don’t grow your own herbs, you can sometimes find fresh herbs for a great deal at farmer’s markets, farmstands, etc. Just a couple of weeks ago, the farm where I get my organic veggies started having pick-your-own herbs for $6 a pound. I gathered a whole big bunch of sage and thyme that only cost me $3 dollars and with just a little bit of work to dry them and bottle them up, I’ll have good-quality, organic herbs for a great price.

Why and how to dry your own herbs

For $1.50 worth of thyme, I ended up with a full 4 oz. (volume, not weight) bottle of dried thyme leaves plus some extra. It probably would have cost me twice as much to get the same amount of organic thyme at the store. Not to mention the fact that I had the fun of channeling my inner old-fashioned herbalist at the same time ๐Ÿ™‚

ย Why and how to dry your own herbs

2) You Can Control the Quality

When you buy herbs at the grocery store, you don’t really have any control over their quality. We all like to assume that the herbs we buy are good quality, but there can be a few problems with the typical grocery store bottled herbs that you don’t have with your own home-grown herbs.

First, many dried herbs are not organic, which means that they’ve been sprayed with toxic pesticides. Of course, some herbs are organic, which is great, but they’re also usually quite a bit more expensive, and there’s usually less variety in the organic herb section than there is in the regular section.

Another problem is that many of the dried herbs in those pretty little bottles on the shelf have been irradiated, which means that they’ve been exposed to gamma radiation to destroy any possible microbes or pathogens . . . along with a good portion of the vitamin and nutrient content, just like with the pasteurization process (source). While irradiation is supposedly done in the name of food safety, the question is why do they even need to do that in the first place unless the herbs were processed and handled in questionable conditions? Makes you wonder . . .

Sometimes store-bought herbs also seem to have a lot of extra twig fragments mixed in with the dried leaves, especially with the “twiggier” herbs like rosemary and thyme. It’s not a major issue, but if I’m going to pay the premium price for organic rosemary, I want to get rosemary leaves and not rosemary twig fragments that I’m just going to pick out and throw away. The reason why this even happens in the first place is probably the result of modern, large-scale, industrial processing. You end up with much better quality when it’s just you sitting at the kitchen table stripping the leaves off the stems and putting them in a bottle ๐Ÿ™‚

How to Dry Your Own Herbs

Drying ย your own herbs is really easy. All you really need is some string or twine and a warm, dry place with hooks or pegs to hang them from.

Step 1: Gather your herbs. The best time to do this, if it fits your schedule, is in the morning before the sun is shining on them. It’s also best to pick the herbs before the plants start to flower.

Step 2: Wash your herbs and pat them dry with a towel. Or, if your herbs look pretty clean, you can just shake them gently to get rid of any residual dust or dirt. At this point, I also pick off any leaves that are yellowed, spotted, or discolored.

Step 3: If your herbs have a lower moisture content (like thyme, rosemary, oregano, sage, etc.), air-dry them by tying them in bundles and hanging them in a place that is warm and dry with some air circulation

If your herbs have a higher moisture content (like basil, lemon balm, mint, etc.), they could start to mold if they are not dried quickly enough. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace (I wish!), that would be a great, old-fashioned place to hang them near, but if not, you can use an oven at the lowest setting possible. Just make sure you don’t let them burn! (I’ve definitely made that mistake more than once!)

The way I dry my basil in the oven is to turn it on to 170 degrees (the lowest it will go) and then shut it off and leave the door open until it feels just warm, but not hot, when I stick my hand in. Then I put the herbs in and leave them there with the door shut until the oven has cooled down to the point where it’s back to room temperature again. And then I take the herbs out, re-start the oven, and do the process over again until the herbs are fully dry.

* Note: It’s a good idea to write yourself a note or tie a string to the oven door to remind yourself that the herbs are in there so you don’t accidentally pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees to bake a batch of cookies. (Yep, definitely made that mistake before!)

Step 4: Store your herbs. Once your herbs are completely dry (they should be able to crumble easily in your hands and have that crispy feel and sound like autumn leaves do), you can separate the leaves from the stems and put your dried herbs into old spice bottles, mason jars, etc.

The best place to store herbs in in a cool, dry place away from the light. This will keep the properties of the herbs as intact as possible and keep them fresh for the longest.

I like to keep my herbs in little cork-topped spice bottles because I like how old-fashioned they look, and any extras that don’t fit into the bottles I keep in larger Mason jars.

Why and how to dry your own herbs

For times when you run out of your nice home-grown and dried herbs, though, or if one of your favorite plants dies and you find yourself herb-less (that’s a word, right?) your best bet is probably to buy organic herbs. Even though they might cost a bit more, when it comes to herbs and spices, you usually get what you pay for as far as quality goes. If you buy your herbs and spices online, though, sometimes you can get a great deal on good-quality herbs by buying in bulk.

For smaller amounts of individual herbs,ย this brandย is one I buy that is non-irradiated, and you can sometimes find these in health food stores, too, in addition to online.

Want to Start Creating Your Own Homestead Right Now?

If you like growing your own vegetables and herbs, or if you’ve always wanted to live on an old-fashioned country homestead, I recommend checking out Your Custom Homesteadย ย by Jill Winger of the Prairie Homestead for some great tips for how to create your own backyard homestead no matter where you live. You don’t have to wait until you find the ideal location to be able to start living the homesteading life!

Why you should dry your own herbs and tips for how to do it properly | ourheritageofhealth.com

 

Further Reading:

Drying My Herbs – Oregano, Thyme, and Parsley

A Creative Way to Organize Herbs and Spices

Want to Live a Healthier Lifestyle?


Post image credit (C) Depositphotos.com/[viperagp]

This post is shared with: Party Wave Wednesday at Holistic Squid; Frugal Days Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable, HomeAcre Hop at Oak Hill Homestead, Thank Your Body Thursday at Thank Your Body, Natural Living Link-Up at Jill’s Home Remedies; Small Footprint Friday at Small Footprint Family, Free to Talk Friday at Dreaming of Perfect, Real Food Friday at It’s Your Life.

34 Responses to Why and How to Dry Your Own Herbs

  1. Kathi says:

    I’ve dried herbs before but didn’t know the differences between organic and bottles from the store. I think it’s time to expand my herb garden.

    Please consider sharing this at the HomeAcre Hop on Thursday.

    Kathi @ oakhillhomestead.com

  2. Lisa says:

    I love those old bottles, so cute! When I’ve used the toaster to oven to dry herbs, I flip them a few times so they dry more evenly.

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Good idea to flip the herbs over so they dry evenly! (And the bottles are actually new even though they look old. I bought them from Mountain Rose Herbs and then just added my own labels ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Jessie says:

    Thanks for posting this! I have always wanted to dry my own herbs for cooking as well as medicinal purposes. Thanks!

  4. […] Our Heritage of Health: How and Why to Dry Your Own Herbs […]

  5. Sandra says:

    I wanted to let you know that you were featured this week on the HomeAcre Hop!
    Feel free to stop by and grab our Featured Button for your Blog.
    Sandra
    http://www.mittenstatesheepandwool.com

  6. Carol says:

    Great information! I liked the tip for drying herbs with more moisture content. I tried hanging stems of lemon balm in the kitchen but I threw them out when they had mildew appearance. Now I will try the oven method.

  7. Lisa Lynn says:

    Hi Lori!
    Thanks for sharing your post on The HomeAcre Hop! I’m featuring it today ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope you’ll stop by and share more of your talent with us!

  8. Joyce says:

    Great post I have never dried herbs before, but have some spearmint growing that I will harvest and dry. I am trying to get a herb garden going, but so far the only two things I have growing are spearmint, and lemon balm. These were both clippings given to me by a friend.

    Thanks for sharing on Real Food Fridays, please come back again.

  9. There are some herbs I like to dry, and others that I prefer to use only fresh. I grow parsley every year(love it in pasta!), but I prefer to have it fresh. Thankfully, it makes a great window plant year-round. But things like mint are great dried, and it tastes good in tea and it deters bugs. Love the multi-uses.

    I featured your post at this week’s Free to Talk Friday. =)

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      I love fresh parsley too. I kept some rosemary in my window last winter, and I think I might try parsley and thyme this year too. Thanks so much for the feature!

  10. Debbie says:

    Thank you for sharing. I have lots of herbs and this gives me a great way to preserve them for future use as the summer dwindles.

  11. […] came across a post from Our Heritage of Health that I want to share. Here are her main […]

  12. Michelle says:

    I haven’t had luck hang drying my herbs (they usually get moldy in the center), but they dry really well when I just throw them in a paper bag in the pantry for a week or two.

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      A paper bag in the pantry is a great method too! If you ever try hang drying them again, though, maybe tie them in smaller bunches? If they’re getting moldy in the center but not on the outside, it could be that the bundle was too large to dry well.

  13. Peggy Lindquist says:

    Thanks for the inspiration. I just hung some lemon thyme.

  14. As soon as you said low heat in the oven, I wondered if I could use my dehydrator for this!

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Yes, a dehydrator would be perfect! I didn’t even think of that because I don’t have one myself, but if I did, I would definitely use it for drying herbs.

  15. […] link). One of the main ingredients is elderflower as well, but it also contains echinacea and other dried herbs. The toddler gets two droppers and the baby gets half a dropper. I have put it into the […]

  16. […] Herbs also need to be harvested in order to keep them from getting to bushy or outgrowing the container but, this should not be much of a problem as the whole idea of growing herbs indoors is to allow you to have fresh herbs all year round. You can use them for your meals of course and for natural remedies as well. If you won’t be able to use them in a timely fashion, learn how to dry your own herbs. […]

  17. Susan Wills says:

    Can you help? A friend sent me a little bottle of dried herbs, but they’re WET! Honestly smell like they’re rotting! I’ve uncorked them, but how do I dry them out?

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      Unfortunately, there probably isn’t any saving them now ๐Ÿ™ If water got into the bottle and they’re wet and smell rotten, they probably aren’t safe to use anymore. If you lay them out flat on a cookie sheet, they will dry in a few days, but it’s possible that they are spoiled. Use your own judgement of course, but if they felt wet and had a bad smell, I personally wouldn’t use them.

  18. Nicole says:

    I didn’t think about drying my own herbs before, but now I’m definitely going to try this out. Thanks!

    • ourheritageofhealth says:

      It’s a pretty easy way to save some money and get good quality herbs at the same time. Hope you enjoy your herb drying! ๐Ÿ™‚

  19. […] Here are some tips on how and why to dry and store your own herbs. Andย here are some tips on oven drying your herbs. […]

  20. dadap says:

    Thanks for posting this! I have always wanted to dry my own herbs for cooking as well as medicinal purposes. Thanks!

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