Dried herbs have a longer shelf life as compared to fresh ones. There is however more to drying herbs than simply drying them in the sun. For instance, herbs meant for drying should be harvested when the weather is sunny, warm, and dry. Under no circumstances should you harvest the herbs when it is raining or after rain. Harvest the herbs when they are slightly warmed up but before the sun can evaporate its essential oils. It would also be advisable to pick the herbs before they can start flowering. Flowering plants have tougher leaves that might not be as nutrient-rich.
The next step is to process the herbs while separating withered and dead leaves. Once done sorting, you can then tie them in small bunches with a cotton string, then blanch them. Drop the herbs in boiling water for no more than 5 seconds. Blanching essentially helps preserve the herb’s nutrients while slowing down the rate at which the nutrients are degraded over time. You might however not need to blanch your herbs. You however should wash and rinse the herbs with running water before starting the drying process. Pat dry the herbs with kitchen paper or soft towel to remove water from the herbs. Here are some of the ways you can dry your herbs.
1. Air Drying
Herbs will obviously dry faster in the warmth than cool temperatures. Gentle heat is, however, all you need to air dry your herbs. As tempting as it may be, you should avoid overheating the herbs. You can choose to use a home-made drying cabinet with gentle heat or invest in a commercial dryer. Although you might not need a fan, it is important that you keep the air circulating and moving freely to avoid staleness.
You also need to watch out for humidity when air drying your herbs as well. This is particularly important if doing so in the kitchen. Be sure to run the extractor when preparing meals to get rid of the excess moisture. You might also want to use cheesecloth or light cloth to cover the herbs while drying them. This will help prevent dust and other forms of dirt from contaminating the herbs.
2. Microwave Drying
Microwave drying is an alternative method for drying herbs and especially if you have limited space and time. While it may be an easy process, you need to be careful not to overdo it. To do this, place a soft cloth or paper well on a flat surface, spread a layer of the herbs on it, then place another soft paper over the herbs. Set the microwave in high heat for one minute, then dry in 30-second bursts while moving the herbs around.
It would be advisable to allow enough time between each burst in the microwave to avoid overheating the herbs. Take around 5 minutes between each burst of drying.
3. Oven Drying
A conventional oven can be utilized to dry herbs too. Ovens can, however, become too hot over time, which is why you’ll need to be careful while drying. Never leave the oven unattended for more than 5 minutes, and especially if there are pets and young children around. Be sure to leave the oven door slightly open to allow the excess heat and moisture out. Set the temperature to gas mark 0 or 45°C/110°F. Place the drying wire mesh racks in the middle of
the oven and stir the herbs around after every few minutes to ensure they dry evenly. The drying process should take approximately 1 hour for the herbs to become dry and crisp.
How To Store Dried Herbs
Dried herbs can be stored in a decorative for a few days, after which they can be crushed for proper storage. Be sure to remove stems and other woody parts of the herbs before crushing them with a pestle and mortar – get more information here on how to do that.. A rolling pin will prove useful when crushing the herbs. Crush them finely while sieving to remove stalks and any foreign material. Some people however prefer stripping the herbs/leaves from the stems before crushing them. This eliminates the need to sieve the fine powder.
You can store the dried and crushed herbs in small-airtight containers. Ensure each container is full enough and airtight to preserve the herb’s fragrances and nutrients. Clear glass bottles might come in handy for storing such herbs too. You, however, should protect the bottles from direct sunlight. Sunlight tends to degrade the herb’s natural color, something many people won’t like. Properly dried herbs and kept in airtight containers can be kept on a shelf for more than a year.