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Why and How to Dry Your Own Herbs

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Bundles of herbs hanging to dry with a wooden background.

Whether you grow your own herbs in a garden in your yard or whether you are able to find a good deal on fresh herbs at a local farm, it can be a very useful skill to know how to dry your own herbs so that you can preserve the bounty of fresh herbs in the summer months to be able to use them all year long.

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 bottles 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.

Bundles of fresh sage and thyme ready for drying.

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 feelign like an old-fashioned herbalist at the same time.

Cork-topped bottle of dried thyme leaves.

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, depending on where you are doing your shopping.

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 radiation to destroy any possible microbes or pathogens. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t like the idea of any food or herbs I am consuming to be exposed to radiation. Not all herbs have gone through this process, though, and if you want to avoid herbs that have been irradiated, you can check the labels on herb bottles to see if they say “non-irradiated.”

For times when I buy herbs instead of growing my own, this brand of herbs is one I buy that is non-irradiated, and you can sometimes find these in health food stores, too, in addition to online.

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.

How to Dry Your Own Herbs

Drying  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 first step is to gather the herbs you want to dry. 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.

It’s a good idea to gather only the amount of herbs that you have the space to hang to dry. If you have four hooks that you can use to hang your herbs for drying, then it’s best to gather just four bundles of herbs, making sure the bundles aren’t so big and thick that the herbs in the middle of the bundle won’t have good airflow. Airflow is important to prevent the herbs from getting moldy during the drying process. 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

Wash your herbs and pat them dry with a towel. At this point, I also pick off any leaves that are yellowed, spotted, or discolored.

Step 3: Hang Your Herbs to Dry

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. Ideally it’s best not to hang them in direct sunlight if you can avoid it.

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 so other options for drying them could be using a dehydrator if you have one of those or using an oven on the lowest possible setting. I have successfully dried both lemon balm and mint by air-drying them, but if you live in a very humid climate and you can’t get them to dry without going moldy then you could try a dehydrator or the oven . Basil is one I would recommend drying in either a dehydrator or oven rather than air-drying unless you live in a very dry climate. Basil has such a high moisture content that I’ve never been able to successfully air-dry it.

In the past, I always hung my herbs to air dry in bunches or spread smaller leaves out on paper towels to dry. I still do this with several of my herbs, and I love the old-fashioned look of bundles of herbs hanging up to dry. I also recently got a small dehydrator, though, and that is making drying herbs with a high moisture content so much easier! My basil isn’t ready to harvest quite yet, so I haven’t tried the dehydrator out with basil yet, but I’ve been using it for some herbs I’ve foraged from my backyard like violet leaf, plantain, dandelion leaf, and mullein leaf. This is the dehydrator that I got, and it is a small, lower cost dehydrator. It’s the perfect size for me because it doesn’t take up too much space, but with all of the trays stacked up it is still enough space for me to dry herbs in batches, and I’m looking forward to trying it with some other things later in the season.

If you don’t have a dehydrator and you have higher moisture herbs and need to use the oven, this is the way I use to dry my basil in the oven. Since my oven doesn’t go below 170 degrees, I would turn it on to 170 degrees and then I watch it as it is heating up and when the temperature gets up to 110 I shut the oven off, put the herbs in and then let them stay in the oven until the temperature cools off to room temperature again. And then I take the herbs out, re-heat the oven again, shut it off when it gets to 110 degrees and keep repeating the process until the herbs are fully dry. If your oven will go to a lower temperature than that then you might be able to leave it own with the door propped open. Ideally you want to dry your herbs at the lowest temperature possible.

* 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: Storing 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), 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. I’ve also used empty store bought spice bottles, too.

Cork-topped bottles of herbs and spices lined up on a shelf.

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.

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Bundles of herbs hanging to dry with a wooden background.

Further Reading:

Drying My Herbs – Oregano, Thyme, and Parsley

A Creative Way to Organize Herbs and Spices

Post image credit (C)[viperagp]

This post is shared with: Party Wave Wednesday at Holistic Squid; Frugal Days Sustainable Ways at Frugally Sustainable, Natural Living Link-Up at Jill’s Home Remedies; Small Footprint Friday at Small Footprint Family, Real Food Friday at It’s Your Life.

(We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.)

The information in this post is not to be taken as medical advice and is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease.

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Friday 14th of August 2020

Hi, Just wondering if it's a bad idea to hang them to dry in a window that gets a lot of sunlight? I did this with Sage once, just lying it on the table and it seemed to work fine. Not sure if the sun would work like the oven in this circumstance or if it harmed my sage? I won't do it again if it's not right! TIA

Lori Elliott

Monday 17th of August 2020

Hi Lydi, that's a good question. So, generally it's not considered ideal to dry herbs in the sun because the light can cause them to lose some quality in color, flavor, and medicinal properties. The sun definitely dries things quickly, so I know it seems like it would make sense to dry herbs this way, but everything I've read about drying herbs seems to recommend drying them out of direct sunlight. If the window is the best place for you to dry herbs as far as space goes, you could always put a paper bag over your herbs or something like that to block the light. And for drying in an oven, for an herb like sage you most likely wouldn't even need to use an oven to help dry the herbs unless you live in a very humid environment. Sage should dry just fine by hanging in bunches at room temperature. I usually use an oven (at a very, very low temperature) to dry high moisture herbs like basil because basil doesn't dry as well on it's own otherwise.

Rachel M

Friday 8th of May 2020

I just hung up my first little bundles of goodness this week! BTW, one of the reasons fresh food is irradiated is to stop it germinating. Heaven forbid that we should propogate anything ourselves, right?

Lori Elliott

Friday 8th of May 2020

That's exciting that you just hung up your first herb bundles! I don't have any ready yet this year, but hopefully fairly soon when the weather gets a bit warmer. I hadn't realized that about the irradiation and germination. Very interesting! Thanks for sharing :)


Friday 10th of April 2020

You really peaked my interest in growing and drying my own herbs! Do you have any helpful tips with dealing with humidity? Will this effect the hang drying and maybe storing of the herbs?

Lori Elliott

Friday 10th of April 2020

That's a great question. Humidity can make it a bit harder to dry herbs sometimes. If you have really high humidity, it could slow down the drying process and keep the herbs from drying fully (which could potentially cause them to develop mold before they have a chance to dry.) With that being said, though, I usually dry herbs during the summer when it's still pretty humid (I live in New England, so my humidity probably isn't as bad as it is in other places) and I've been able to dry herbs by just hanging them in the kitchen. Having air conditioners (or heat) running in the house can help to dry out the air some. You could also try drying the herbs in the lowest temperature in your oven with the door propped open. And another method I've heard of that I haven't tried personally is to put the herbs in a paper bag and put them in your car on a warm sunny day to get the right temperature. A lot depends on the type of herb that you're drying too. Some herbs dry pretty quickly (like oregano and thyme) so those probably wouldn't be as much of a problem with high humidity. Other herbs like basil have a higher moisture content and they take much longer to dry, so the humidity would affect them more.

Julie Vick

Sunday 4th of August 2019

Thank you for your notes and all the comments. I'm new to doing things like this. After drying, can you put them in a bag and food saver them for longer life?

Lori Elliott

Monday 5th of August 2019

I've never tried doing that before, but I can't think of any reason why you couldn't do it. I usually store my herbs in small glass bottles or mason jars, but I would think that a food saver bag would probably work fine too.

Justin Horowitz

Tuesday 23rd of July 2019

I dried some oregano and mint from my garden (150F in the oven for roughly 2 hours). They crisped up, smelled great as I was crumbling them, and then I stored them each in glass containers with saran wrap over the jar. A few weeks later I opened the saran wrap and the herbs lost all their scent...still dry and no mold however. Any ideas? Thank you J

Lori Elliott

Tuesday 23rd of July 2019

Sometimes the oven can have a tendency to make the herbs lose their scent and flavors more than when the herbs are air-dried. Because of this, I usually only dry herbs with a very high moisture content like basil in the oven and let the rest air dry by hanging them in bundles. So in the future, if you aren't in a hurry and don't mind waiting a few weeks for your herbs to dry, hanging them up in bundles to air dry will give you a better chance of them keeping their scent and flavor for longer. (And if you do dry them in the oven again, you could try lowering the temperature even further if your oven will go lower. Or, if not, then turn it to 150 and then shut it off and leave the door open for a couple of minutes to bring the temperature down a bit before putting the herbs in.) And for storing the herbs, you could try keeping them in something a bit more air tight like maybe a mason jar with a lid. It's possible that the saran wrap might not have been sealed as well as a lidded jar would be.

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