Every summer, my husband and I grow two small raised container gardens, each about 6 feet long by 4 feet wide. We grow vegetables in one and a variety of fresh herbs in the other. I look forward to reaping the rewards of fresh herb garden every summer. To get by in the winter months, I dry fresh herbs throughout the summer to keep on hand through the winter.
Homemade dried herbs are much more flavorful than any store bought variety I’ve ever tried. The store bought variety often lack flavor, color, and scent. For me, drying herbs is a great way to preserve my herb garden’s abundance and enjoy it all year long. This technique is also useful if you’ve purchased a fresh bunch of herbs only to use a sprig or two for a recipe. To that end, I’ve found I can dry the rest and have them in the pantry rather than to throw the remains (read: money) in the trash.
I mentioned earlier that many pre-packaged dried herbs have no scent. Herbs get their scents and flavors from their essential oils just like lavender oil or pepper mint oil or the smell in the air when you cut a lemon or eat an orange. Those scents are all essential oils. Harvesting herbs at their prime is the biggest factor in capturing the highest amounts of essential oils in your herbs. So. if you are collecting herbs from your garden, harvest them when their essential oil content is optimal – first thing in the morning before the sun is hot and the essential oils evaporate. As you can imagine, during the blazing summer heat of the afternoon, some of the oils evaporate. Plants replenish overnight the essential oils they lost during the heat of the afternoon. Realistically, however, you may only have time to gather your herbs in the afternoon or evening as time permits. These herbs will still be good, just not as aromatic as they would have been in the earlier in the morning. But if that’s all the time you have, that’s okay!
Once you’ve gotten the herbs picked, I like to give mine a quick rinse to wash away any debris lingering on the herbs. Then I gently pat then dry with either a good kitchen tea towel or paper towels. Clip the stems back to the leaves and begin separating the small leaves from the remaining stems. If you’re a purist, you can save the stems and use them to flavor a chicken stock or something that will be strained later on before use. Otherwise, I put the remains in the garden compost to make rich soil for next year. Once the leaves are all separated, pinch off any remaining long stems. It’s easier to do this now than after they are dried.
Place the leaves on a prepared baking sheet – I use pre-cut brown parchment paper that I buy on amazon.com. These sheets come in handy for so amny things and are relatively inexpensive as compared to the roll of parchment you can buy in the store.
Next, place the pan in the oven on the top rack and bake at the lowest setting and dry for 1.5 hours or until parsley crumbles easily between your fingers. Drying times may vary according to your lowest oven setting, climate conditions, and relative humidity.
Crumble any large leaves gently to break them up so they fit in the storage vessel.
Fold the parchment paper into a funnel and place the smallest end inside the mouth of a clean, dry jar to easily store the leaves.
Store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
How to Dry Fresh Herbs
Drying fresh herbs from the garden is an easy and affordable way to have flavorful herbs on hand over the winter months.
- Wash and gently dry the fresh parsley sprigs.
- Pick out any discolored leaves and woody stems.
- Preheat your oven to lowest temperature setting - usually 170 degrees F
- Place herb leaves in a single layer on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
- Dry herbs in oven on the top rack for 1.5 hours or until parsley crumbles easily between your fingers. Drying times may vary according climate conditions and relative humidity.
- Crumble any large leaves gently to break them up so they fit in the storage vessel.
- Fold the parchment paper into a funnel and place smallest end inside the mouth of a clean, dry jar to easily store the leaves.
- Store in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
Be sure to dry herbs fully. Any residual moisture will result in moldy product.