This past weekend, I realized I needed to seriously clip my oregano and thyme. Although I use them fresh in much of my cooking, the plants are growing faster than I can use them. So, I gave both plants a major hair cut! The picture above is what I harvested from the oregano and thyme. What did I do with the harvest? Dry it, of course.
With herbs that don’t have a lot of essential oil, you could hang them to dry – unless you live in the South where the humidity makes the air thick enough to chew. So, for me, ALL my herbs have to be dried mechanically. The choices are an oven or a dehydrator. (Some sources say you can use a microwave, but I don’t think I want to nuke my herbs.) I do have a dehydrator, but I personally prefer the oven method. It’s simpler and takes less time because the oven is a bit warmer than my dehydrator.
First, try to cut your herbs in the morning when the oils are strongest and the herbs will have they’re best flavor. Then wash and dry them well. I patted mine dry with a kitchen towel. Leave the sprigs whole; don’t pull the leaves off the stem at this point. They’re much easier to pull off once they’re dry. Trust me on that one. (The first time I dried herbs, I pulled all the leaves off and then dried them. Took me forever!)
Once your herb sprigs are clean, preheat your oven to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature must be below 200, else the herbs will bake rather than dry. While the oven is preheating, place your herb sprigs in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Try to place them without overlapping the sprigs, so they’ll dry evenly. The thyme was a little more challenging to do as the sprigs were intertwined – and, I admit, I got lazy. (And yes, I had a few sprigs that didn’t dry well. I need to take my own advice, eh?)
Once the oven is preheated, put your cookie sheets on the shelves in the center of the oven. LEAVE THE OVEN DOOR CRACKED OPEN! This is important because you want air circulation to help dry the herbs; you don’t not bake them. The time it takes for herbs to dry completely depends on the amount of essential oils in the herb. The amount of humidity can affect the timing, as well. Set your timer for 30 minutes, then check them every 15 minutes. When they look dry, remove a sprig to test it. It’s dry when you can crumble it in your hand. My thyme took about 45 minutes, and my oregano took 75 minutes (it has more essential oils than thyme). But that’s not a hard and fast rule, so be sure you monitor them.
At this point, you have a choice. You can store your dried herbs whole in a tightly sealed jar, which is the recommended way for maintaining flavor for a longer period of time. Or, like me, you can grind your herbs in a mortar and pestle and store in a seasoning jar. I use my herbs so quickly, it’s easier for me to grind them all at once and store them in a seasoning jar. (I got mine at Bed, Bath & Beyond for 99 cents each.)
If you’re going to grind them, run your hand along the stem and all the leaves will crumble off into the mortar. Easy! And, your grinding job will be half done. (Then put the stems into the compost pile.)
Once you’ve ground the herbs – coarse or fine, your choice – use a funnel and pour into your jar. Store in a cool, dark place.
UPDATE: If you’d like more detail on storing your dried herbs, see my Q&A Thursdays article, “How to Store Dried Herbs.”
Do you grow your own herbs? How do you preserve them?