Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Harvest time How To on Air Drying Herbs

Herbs are tremendously useful in so many ways. So it is late summer now, your herb garden has been planted, watered, weeded, and you’ve watched the plants grow and thrive. Now it’s time to learn how to use those wonderful herbs and it requires only a little bit of work. The first step in using the results of your garden is to harvest them.

Harvesting an herb does not mean removing the entire plant, rather cutting or rimming 2/3 to 3/4 of the plants height. An herb’s essential oils can be dispersed by the wind and the heat, and on extremely wet days, fewer oils are produced by the plants. The best time to harvest your herbs is during mid to late summer, on a calm and dry morning. Harvest them right before the flowers open in the morning and just after the dew has dried from the leaves.  Yes i did say 2/3 to 3/4 they will grow back, I promise and they will be happier if you cut them often instead of waiting until October.

Using fresh herbs right out of your garden is a delight. Make sure to clean the herbs before using them fresh in recipes. To clean fresh herbs, fill a bowl with cool water and place the herbs in the bowl. For a larger quantity, use the cleaned kitchen sink. Add about two tablespoons of salt to the water. Any insects present on the herbs will be driven away by the salt in the water, without damaging the plant. Rinse carefully and allow them to air dry.  You can speed up this drying by  placing the herbs in a salad spinner.

Of course, herbs don’t have to be used at the time they are picked. They can be preserved for later use in three ways by: drying, freezing, or preserving them in salt, butter or vinegar.

I have posted ways to make and use butters and vinegar before, so I will let you look at those posts:



I will talk about some other drying methods in the coming weeks as well, but I thought I would start with the easiest -- air drying.  And I have some great photos from this year’s harvesting. This is a very simple way to preserve herbs. It works best with sturdy herbs like sage, lavender, thyme, savory, mints, rosemary and oregano.

Pick herbs in the morning, after dew has dried, but before the heat of the day sets in. Rinse them and pat them dry. Then, try one of these air-drying methods, all of which take about two to three weeks:

  • Remove leaves from the bottom of the stem, and bunch four to six stems together loosely. Bundle with a rubber band or string and hang them, upside down, out of direct sunlight for two to three weeks.
  • Spread the herbs out on a loosely on a window screen or woven basket tray and dry them flat.

  • Put herbs into brown paper bags and loosely tie or fold over the top.  This is especially good for thyme and chives.
When the herbs crumble to the touch, you can pack the leaves into jars or seal them in plastic bags. Be careful not to crush them yet. Store them whole so that they’ll keep more of their flavorful oils. Keep them from direct sunlight so they’ll maintain their flavor for several months.

Steps to air drying:

Trim the stems until all the herbs in a bundle are about the same length. Place 4 to 6 stems together and bundle with a rubber band.  Some people like string, but since the stems shrink during the drying process, I am more fond of rubber bands which will contract and keep the herbs off the floor.

fresh savory and sage ready to be hung

I also like the fact that the last loop of the band can be placed over the hanging bar and back over the stems to serve as a hanger.  And when I want to remove the herbs.  I just tug on the bundle and the rubber band snaps off the hanging rod.
Rubber band looped over rod
 Place the herbs in a dry dark area out of direct sunlight. and give them 48 hours to two weeks to dry.
Quick and easy drying rack using paper tube wire hangers

Once the herbs pass the "crumble test," they are done and can be stored until you are ready to use them in a sealed jar or container.  I place bundles whole in glass jars or zip seal bags until i am ready to strip the stems into my still room jars for use in blends.
Savory crumbling perfectly

Sage perfectly dry
When I dry sage, I like the use the leaves with the best color to make rubbed sage.  So I will sort through the leave and separate out the leaves I like.  I crumble them in my hand to a coarse consistency.

Then I place them on a paper towel and using the balls of my fingers rub in gentle circles until I create a clumping powder.  

There are those who run sage leaves in a blender or grinder to make rubbed sage, but I think this lets too much essential oil escape and I prefer the hand method.  It does not take any longer and you have no extra cleanup!
rubbed sage ready for bottling


  1. Any tips on drying Chives? I've tried twice and they've gone yellow on me. I dried them in a dark, dry, cool basement with everything else, and it just didn't work as well as my oregano, rosemary, etc. Thanks! And thanks for posting about Tarragon, been wonderful what to do with that one and your chicken recipe sounds wonderful.

  2. Because chives are more like a succulent, you have to get them to dry quickly. They cannot screen or hang dry like other herbs. One way it to place them in a brown paper bag, fold the top down and place it in the back of the top shelf of your refrigerator. You can do this in the freezer as well, it is called "freeze drying" although not the real technical way it is done.


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