| Share: | more

Harvesting, Drying, and Storing Herbs

Drying Herbs

When you see the buds starting to form on your plants, you know the flavours are at their maximum, and this is the perfect time to harvest your herbs. It is now that the essential oils are at their peak, making for the maximum potency for use in both food and remedies.

Each type of herb will bloom at a different point during the season - so you must keep an eye out for the buds, they are your cue. This will occur several times throughout the growing season, if you are careful not to over-harvest.

Annual herbs can be cut back to 4-6 inches high, as long as you leave at least one pair of leaves. Perennials should be treated kindly, never removing more than one third of the plant. That's okay, though, the topmost leaves of your plants are the most flavourful.


Get out the sharpest pair of scissors you own, and cut large stems from the mature plant. Shake off any insects, then thoroughly rinse each individual sprig. Pat thoroughly dry so that they do not mould.

Air-drying is the best method for retaining maximum flavour (through the volatile oils), but it does have one drawback: dust. Unless you have an area where there is low dust, you might find that either the dehydrator or the oven methods are preferable. Air-drying is best for herbs that are relatively dry, e.g. dill, oregano, and parsley, as they require the least time.

N.B.: Tag your herbs at the beginning of the process, since dried herbs can look remarkably similar.

Drying herbs in the oven

Herb drying methods:

  1. Hanging Herb-drying rack - either buy one, or make one out of readily available items such as brass cup hooks and a sturdy wooden hanger (or use a dowel and some twine to approximate the shape of the hanger).
    Bundle 5 to 8 branches together and hang in a dark, warm (dry) space, that is not dusty.
  2. Screen or Tray version Herb-drying rack - using an old window screen, or create one out of 1" x 1" lumber and some screening. These are perfect for drying individual leaves and can be stacked. Dry herbs in a dark, warm (dry) space. Depending on the moisture content of the herbs you have chosen and the area of the house you are using, this process could take between 2 to 4 weeks.
  3. Flower Press - herbs in a flower press (buy or make one) can take up to six weeks to fully dry.
  4. Heat - in your electric or gas oven at low heat (180F - 80C) with the door propped open a few inches for 3 to 4 hours. Do not attempt to speed up the process by raising the temperature, since you will only lose the oils in the herbs, and with them, the intensity of the flavour.
  5. Dehydrator - if you opt to dry your herbs in the dehydrator, you should still put a layer of screen inside. Vertical air flow dehydrators are preferred if you are trying to dry multiple types of herbs at once, or the flavours will mingle. Leave the herbs in the dehydrator until the leaves are brittle.

Store herbs in airtight containers in the dark and use within one year for best quality (label them with the date so that you remember).

Other preservation methods and ways to use your herbs include:

  • Freezing
  • Herbal Butters (link to instructions)
  • Herbal Vinegars (link to instructions)
  • Herbal Vodka (link to instructions)
  • Herbal Sugars (link to instructions)
  • Herb Mustards
  • Potpourri
  • Silica Sand - NOT for herbs you intend to eat - draws the moisture out of the herbs, but renders them inedible. (Think of the little packets that come in new shoes with the big DO NOT EAT warning - that is silica sand.)

Information on this website is for information purposes only.
Please consult a qualified health practitioner before taking any course of action.
Always check for counter-results before deciding on a course of action.

+Other NHC news:
Blog post: Understanding Our Editorial Choices, by Gisela McKay
At the computer for long periods? Find information and prevention tools
Workplace Wellness Programs: bring healthy ideas to your workplace...
Bio Intolerance Elimination: An exciting new approach to allergy relief
Read the #naturalhealth incanada Daily! [news] Click here for news, recipes, opinions from Canadian naturalhealth practitioners.

Find us:

twitter facebook LinkedIn Blog Blog Find us on Pinterest Find us on Youtube