How & When to Dry Herbs

I harvested chamomile flowers the other day for tea.The flowers were gently dried in an electric dehydrator for about 18 hours and then transferred to a wide mouth Mason jar with a lid for storage. Chamomile like most ordinary kitchen or medicinal herbs are easily dried for storage.

Chamomile Flower Herbs

Dried Chamomile Flowers

If herbs are going to be dried for storage they need to be perfectly dry when you harvest them. Pick them on a sunny day if possible and after all the morning dew has dried. Only harvest the best quality herbs.
Remember – “Garbage in -Garbage out.”

Drying won’t improve the quality of an unhealthy plant or a herb that is past its prime.
All herbs dry best when they are picked during a waning moon and in the signs of Aries, Leo or Sagittarius. In fact the further you get from the full moon the better they will dry. Herbs that are harvested when the moon is waxing or full, or harvested when the moon is in the sign of Cancer, will have a tendency to go moldy and to spoil.
If herbs are to be used fresh or for medicinal uses they are most flavorful and potent when harvested while the moon is waxing or full.

Folk wisdom informs us that herbs to be used for healing purposes are best picked in the spring or early summer during the light of a full moon, or when the moon is in the sign of Scorpio. To dry the herbs wait for the full moon to pass and begin to wane. You can consult any good almanac for information about daily lunar cycles and the moon’s age and location.

Watering Can & Chamomile

Watering Can & Chamomile

I like to use a cheap plastic electric dehydrator for most kitchen herbs. Parsley, lemon balm, bay leaves, rosemary, sage, tarragon, sweet basil and all kinds of mint dry to perfection in a food dehydrator.
The dehydrator is preheated for about an hour before I put the herbs in. Depending upon the relative humidity most herbs will dry within 2 to 24 hours.

Electric Dehydrator Tray With Chamomile

Electric Dehydrator Tray With Chamomile

Herbs are dry when the stems break easily and the leaves or flowers readily crumble. A barely warm electric or gas oven also works well to dry herbs and some people do use a microwave oven.

With small leaf herbs like marjoram, thyme and oregano, I like to dry them on a screen. I use an ordinary window screen laid across two saw horses. The screen is placed in a very warm, shady and sheltered dry location. I think screen drying works better than the food dehydrator for small leafed herbs. That’s because when plant material dries it shrinks, and small leafed herbs once they shrink will tend to fall through a plastic dehydrator tray. Hanging mesh drying racks are also a good way to dry small herbs. The hanging racks save on space and allow air to circulate around the herbs. Air circulation is important when drying herbs in humid weather.

For those of you who like the convenience of “pick ’em off while you cook”, many dried herbs do well just hung in bunches from the kitchen or pantry ceiling.
Long stemmed or large leafed herbs like dill, mints, sweet basil, fennel, anise, bee balm and lavender are very easily dried by being tied into bundles and then hung upside down in a warm location. I use new rubber bands to hold the bundles together. With herbs that have small seed heads like dill, anise or coriander I will place a small paper bag over the heads and tie the bag securely to the stems of the herb. That way when the seed heads begin to dry, the seeds that fall will fall into the bag and not on the floor to be wasted.

Glass Mason jars are perfect for storing herbs but plain paper bags work well too. Dried herbs are stronger tasting than fresh herbs so be sure to take that into consideration when you cook with them.

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