Learning how to dry herbs is one of the best ways you can extend the life of your herb garden. Not only is it economical (growing herbs in your garden means big savings in the kitchen), but if you harvest and store your herbs properly, they're practically guaranteed to have more flavor than most store-bought varieties. So, don't let your rosemary, basil, cilantro and dill wither away just because the cold weather's here—try drying herbs so that you can enjoy them year round.
How to Dry Herbs
A common and practical way to dry herbs is to stalk them (and no, I don't mean by harassing them on Facebook and Twitter). To dry herbs this way, just tie the stalks in small bunches and hang the herbs upside down in a warm, dark place with good air circulation. You'll probably be tempted to put your drying herbs in a bright window for display (and who could blame you, herb bunches can look really rustic and pretty), but try and resist the temptation: Direct sunlight can sap your drying herbs of their color and flavor.
Another popular way to dry herbs is to dehydrate them using screens, mesh trays or dehydrators. Another nearly fool-proof way for drying herbs, dehydrating herbs basically involves placing them in a shallow layer on a suitable surface (screens work well because they allow air to circulate) and waiting until the herbs are dry. Note that few people dry herbs in the oven because the herbs dry too quickly and lose their flavor. (Although, I have had pretty good luck drying herbs on our radiators in the fall.)
A less common but more modern way to store herbs is to freeze them without drying them. Freezing herbs locks in more flavor and color and (admittedly) can make them really easy to use in the kitchen. If you're interested in freezing your garden herbs, there are basically two main methods: putting clean herbs in a freezer-friendly container (like a freezer bag) or freezing chopped herbs in ice-cube trays with a bit of water. Either method is easy, convenient and gets the job done. Plus, can you think of an easier way to kick-start a mojito?
Preventative Care When Drying Herbs
Although learning how to dry herbs is quite easy, there are a few best practices you should follow to make sure you get the best results. For instance:
- Don't try drying herbs of different types next to one another, especially if any of the herbs are intensely aromatic (like rosemary). Close proximity can result in flavor and scent mixing that will dilute the flavor and smell of your drying herbs.
- Don't store dry herbs until they are completely dry. Storing less-than-dry herbs can result in mold and rotting.
- Don't try to dry herbs in a wet or humid environment (like a steamy kitchen or bathroom). This can promote molding and extend dry times.
(Images graciously provided by OmniBrain, linder6580 and FlashInPan. Thanks!)