Food preservation can sound a lot like witch craft when you first get started. If you have never done any preserving of fruits, vegetables or herbs on your own, it can be overwhelming in the beginning. There are so many articles and books to read, and ways that you can go wrong! Further, you read some scary stories about botulism and bacteria that make you just run down to the local grocery store to buy your food instead. Don’t let all of the over information stop you from getting started (analysis paralysis) and learning how to enjoy putting up food on your own.
Starting your food preservation journey with dried herbs is a great gateway
Drying fresh herbs in the oven is one of the quickest and easiest ways to get started on your food preservation adventure. It costs little to get started, and the stakes are low in the event that you do something wrong during the preservation process. (Meaning, no one gets sick or dies).
Further, once you have mastered the skill of preserving herbs in the oven or even by room drying them, you will put yourself in a better place to spend less money overall on herbs, avoid waste, and to have a lot more organic food around your home that you know is free of chemicals and additives.
As in all things about food preservation, there are lots of ways to go about drying herbs
Some people dry herbs simply by hanging them upside down in bundles, tied with cotton twine. This can actually work quite well, if you are patient enough to wait for the process to do its work. Often times when you see herbs drying out in the air in a kitchen or maybe in a storage room, the herbs are just tied up and hung from a hook on the wall or from the ceiling.
Generally I would suggest that instead of leaving them open to the air, that you tie the stalks into small bundles and then hang the bunch upside down inside a paper bag that has been holes poked all over it. The bag keeps light from breaking down the leaves and flowers, catches any seeds that pop out, and also keeps the herbs free from dust that just naturally accumulates around every house. It also prevents any mess that could occur from leaves falling off the bunches onto the ground, or if someone happens to accidentally bump the bunch and crumble a bunch of leaves off of the herbs.
The oven is just as effective as hang drying and faster
Drying herbs in the oven is another effective way to preserve and avoid wasting leftover herbs. What I like about it is that the mess is better contained, and the process is much much faster. What you need to dry your herbs are just a few things:
- a baking sheet
- an oven (funny enough)
- clean dry herbs that you want to preserve
- airtight containers or bags for your finished product
While you may be excited about preserving a bunch of different kinds of herbs, I recommend that you only do one varieties at a time. The reason that I say this is that different herbs have different drying times. The various varieties have leaves with a different amount of moisture in them due to the size and thickness.
You can dry a mix of herbs all together if you like, but you just have to remember that some of the leaves may take longer. You may end up burning some of your smaller leaves in your attempts to get the larger leaves fully finished.
Drying your herbs in the oven
When you have selected your herbs, the first thing you should do is wash and thoroughly dry out the ones you’re going to use. If you lay out your herbs wet on the baking sheet, it will likely lengthen the amount of time that it takes to dry out your herbs.
In general, I think it’s a good idea to take the big leaves off of the stems and lay them out evenly on one baking sheet. Little leaves can be left on the stem if you like, and put all of these on another sheet. These baking sheets may take more or less time, so it is nice to be able to remove the ones that are done and leave the rest to continue as needed.
When the herbs are dry regardless of whether you take the leaves off or leaving them on the stem, they will crumble right up.
After the herbs are dry from washing them, lay them out flat and in a single layer onto the baking sheet. Depending on how many leaves you want to dry out, it may take several baking sheets.
Once you’re ready to go, set your oven to the lowest temperature possible. Different ovens go lower than others. Some may only go as low as 200 degrees F while others go down to 170 degrees F. Either is fine. Place the baking sheets in the oven on the racks closest to the middle.
The oven temp will impact the drying time but generally this will take between 20 and 60 minutes. In most cases, I leave the oven door propped open an inch or so to let moisture out. If your oven does not allow you to bake while the oven is open, like some gas ovens do, then just periodically open the door briefly to allow the moisture to escape. The reason we want to let the moisture out so that the leaves actually get dried out, otherwise the moisture will continue to bounce around for the inside of the oven and impair our drying process.
After about 20 to 25 minutes, check on the herbs and rotate the baking sheets if needed. Check every 10 to 15 minutes after that. You will know that your herbs are done drying out when the leaves crumble between your fingertips.
In general this should not take more than an hour. After removing the dried leaves from the oven, set them aside on the pans for a time until they are completely cool. You don’t want to put the leaves straight into an airtight container right after pulling them out of the oven because there may still be some moisture in the leaf. (Moisture causes mold).
You are welcome to crumble the leaves into the container or just tuck them in there whole, depending upon how you want them to look or how you intend to use them in the future. Either way, the container that you store them in needs to be airtight.
Microwaving herbs is another way to dry herbs quickly
Finally, if you have finished all of your trying and find that one or two of the leaves did not quite get all the way down, you can catch them up by throwing them in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds and catch them up with the rest.
While I generally try to avoid using the microwave for cooking because I don’t necessarily know what microwaving does to our food and water when we use it, many people use the microwave to quickly dry herbs. If you want to use the microwave to dry your herbs, you should pluck the leaves of the herb you want to dry from the stem, place a single layer of the herbs on a paper towel on a microwave-safe plate, and microwave on high for a minute. Check to make sure they are completely dry and crumbly. If they are not, blast them for short intervals until they are to a doneness that you like.
What about drawing herbs out in the sun? Generally this is not a recommended tactic because the sun causes the herbs to lose their color and flavor during the drying process.
Any more questions about drying herbs in the oven? Ask away in the comments and we’ll respond or add the answer to the bottom of this article.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer when the kids are sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.