Air-drying is the easiest and most economical way to preserve fresh herbs for use all year. If you bought a bag of fresh herbs and only used a leaf or two in a recipe, or if you’ve got a large end-of-season herb harvest, here’s what you need to know to air-dry and preserve your herbs for lasting use.
Herbs Suited For Air-Drying
You can air-dry most any herbs, although high-moisture herbs will dry slower and be more susceptible to mold and rot. These herbs usually air-dry pretty easily:
Lavender (including flowers)
Herbs Not Suited For Air-Drying
These herbs are higher in moisture and need to be dried quickly in low humidity, or frozen instead:
How To Prepare and Dry Fresh Herbs
Step 1: Harvest Herbs: Most herbs have the best flavor when harvested right before they bloom, but you can really harvest them whenever you can. If you’re harvesting an entire plant at the end of the season, you can cut it back to the ground. If you’re harvesting midseason or it’s an evergreen herb, cut back the entire plant by no more than 1/3 to leave plenty to grow. Keep only healthy branches, and discard anything dead or wilted.
Step 2: Clean Herbs: Rinse the sprigs with cool water, and gently pat dry. A salad spinner works great for drying leaves without breaking them.
Step 3: Remove Lower Leaves: Strip back the leaves from the bottom inch or two of stem.
Step 4: Tie Herbs in Bunches: Gather a small handful of stems (all facing the same direction), and tie them together using twine, rubber bands, twist-ties, or floral wire. The bunches should be loose enough to let air circulate, but the string will need to be pretty tight to keep the shrinking stems from slipping out of the binding.
Step 5: Cover Herbs (optional): If you’re worried about dust, poke the stems through a hole in the bottom of a paper bag so that the leaves are protected inside the bag. Cut some ventilation holes in the bag to prevent mold.
Step 6: Hang Herbs Dry: Hang the bunches in your chosen spot, with the leaves pointing down. If you’re planning to preserve herbs for cooking, you’ll get the best flavor if you take a little time to choose the right place. The best spot for drying herbs is dark (or at least out of direct sunlight), dry, clean, and free of smoke, dust, cooking oils, and steam. A basement, spare bedroom, or large closet can serve this purpose quite well. Use an indoor clothesline, laundry rack, closet rod, or exposed rafters to keep them off the ground. You can even run a small fan or dehumidifier, just to keep air dry and moving a little.
Step 7: Check Herbs: It may take several weeks for your herbs to dry fully, but they should be checked every few days. It takes a little skill to learn when dried herbs are ready. Properly dried herbs will crumble into flakes when you pinch them while over dried herbs will crush to powder. As a test, drop a few leaves into a glass jar or clear plastic bag, close it tightly, and leave for a few hours in a warm spot. If you see condensation on the inside of the container, the herbs aren’t dry yet.
Step 8: Store Herbs: When your herbs are dry, they need to be stored in airtight jars or plastic bags. Snip the leaves or flowers off the stem, and either crumble them now, or place them whole into the jar and crumble them as you use them. Discard the stems. Keep the containers in a cool, dark pantry or cabinet, and they should last about a year.
Step 9: Enjoy Herbs: Now you’re ready to get cooking! In recipes that call for fresh herbs, use about 1/3 the amount of dried herbs. For an easy rule of thumb, use 1 teaspoon dried herbs in place of 1 tablespoon fresh.