If you want to have something from your herb harvest for as long as possible, you can simply dry the herbs. Here is what you should keep in mind and how to preserve the flavor optimally.
Herbs are best used freshly harvested in the kitchen, but even in winter you want to add flavor to your dishes with herbs. Many herb lovers grow their own herbs on the balcony or in the garden. When the harvest of herbs is so abundant that they cannot be used fresh, people try to preserve the plants for later enjoyment. A simple way to preserve the harvest is to simply dry the herbs. However, there are a few things to consider with this preservation method, as not all herbs are suitable for drying. Some herbs, such as sorrel or borage, even lose their flavor completely when dried. Here are some tips on how to preserve the flavor in the best possible way.
Harvesting, preparation and drying of herbs
Herbs are usually quite undemanding plants that require less care than many ornamental perennials or vegetables. Nevertheless, there are some small peculiarities to consider when drying herbs.
The harvest of herbs
To ensure that your herbs do not lose flavor when dried, they must be harvested at the right time. The aroma is strongest in many species before the flowering phase, and the herbs lose significant flavor as they flower. These include herbs such as mints, chives, dill and oregano. Harvest herbs best on a dry, cloudy morning after a few rain-free days, after the dew has already dried. Cut the herbs just above the ground so you can dry and store them, depending on your method. When doing this, try not to damage the shoots too much, as this will result in the loss of valuable ingredients. Harvested plant parts should be cleaned of dirt and insects by shaking them out. Do not wash leaves, seed heads and flowers, as additional water would promote decomposition and prolong the drying period.
Herbs are best picked on a rain-free morning. Make sure your herbs have seen at least a day or two of sunlight before harvesting. In the evening and night hours, as well as on rainy days, the aroma of the herbs is lowest
Cleaning, bundling and drying
If you want to dry your herbs gently, you should avoid washing them extensively. This indirectly makes them lose quality again, as it significantly delays the drying process. After harvesting, however, you can remove the dust from the herbs by shaking them. For this purpose, you can use a sieve, for example. If you still insist on washing the herbs, it is appropriate to pre-dry the extra water with kitchen roll paper. Also, try to reduce the size of the plants as little as possible. Any crushing hurts the cell structure of the herb, which allows the essential oils and other ingredients to escape.
Drying herbs in the air
There are several methods of drying one’s herbs, but air drying is particularly gentle. For this method, all you need is some twine or regular household rubber bands to tie the herbs together in small bundles. Hang the bundles upside down in a dry and dust-free room. The room temperature should be between 20 and 30 °C / 68 and 86 °F. In addition, the room should be well ventilated. The faster the plants dry, the better. If the herbs are dried too slowly, the leaves may become moldy or turn black, making the herbs unusable and have to be disposed of. Therefore, the optimal drying time is between 24 and 48 hours. If the plants take longer, enzymes are already breaking down chemical components in the plants’ tissues, causing the quality to deteriorate. Excessive moisture, heat or light will also reduce the quality.
When drying the seed stalks of herbs like caraway, you should hang the bundle upside down over a bag to catch the seeds inside.
Once the leaves of the herbs are brittle, they can be pushed off the stems and placed in a dark container for storage. Since herbs lose their flavor quickly when exposed to air, keep the container closed if possible and only open it briefly when you plan to use the herbs in the kitchen or for tea. However, always check the container for mold before using. Lady’s mantle and marshmallow are particularly susceptible to mold because they easily draw moisture.
Drying herbs in the microwave
If you want to dry thyme, you can also put it in the microwave. Only a few Mediterranean herbs, including oregano or marjoram, can be dried in the microwave without losing their aroma. With this method, the herbs may also be washed beforehand. Then spread the herbs out on a paper towel and put them, along with the paper towel, in the microwave at a very low wattage setting for about 30 seconds. Then briefly check the herbs and repeat this process until the herbs are dry. The total time in the microwave should be about two to three minutes, but may vary depending on the quantity and variety of herbs.
Drying herbs in a dehydrator
A modern alternative is to dry the herbs in a dehydrator. Such a dehydrator usually runs at temperatures between 30 and 70 °C / 86 and 158 °F and thus gently removes the moisture from the herbs. Rather low temperatures (between 30 and 50 °C / 86 and 122 °F) are optimal, as otherwise the essential oils contained and thus the aroma are quickly lost. The device should therefore ideally have a temperature control.
Automatic dehydrators are particularly suitable where there is little space for drying herbs and where a quick result is to be achieved.
Drying herbs in the oven
This method is actually only suitable for underground plant parts that can withstand higher temperatures without damage during a longer drying period. To do this, place the plant parts on a baking tray and put it in the oven at about 50 to 60 °C / 122 and 140 °F for about two to three hours. If you want to dry herbs in the oven, you should choose the lowest temperature for this (about 30 °C / 86 °F, but never higher than 50 °C / 122 °F). Place the herbs on a baking tray and put it in the oven for about two hours. Leave the oven door open a small crack during this process.
What herbs are suitable for drying?
Mediterranean herbs such as thyme or oregano are excellent for drying – drying rosemary is also recommended, as well as drying sage. Even drying mint is possible and chamomile or savory can also be dried and stored. To give you a small overview of which herbs are suitable for drying, here is a list of the most common herb.
Also some wild herbs such as mugwort, cordial, chamomile, woodruff can be excellent dry. With herbs such as oregano or marjoram, the aroma becomes even more intense when the leaves are dried. However, the harvesting and drying of these plants should always take place before flowering.
Herbs such as pimpinelle, tripmadam, borage, lovage, rue, sorrel, black nettle (Perilla) or cress are not or hardly suitable for drying, as they continuously and rather quickly lose their aroma after picking. The leaves then contain only the leaf mass without flavor or fragrance even after rapid drying. For these herbs, only deep freezing is an option.
Many herbs are not only wonderful to dry, but also excellent to freeze. Especially plants with soft leaves (for example, chives, basil and parsley) are just made for the freezer. By freezing the ingredients and essential oils are preserved better than when drying the herbs and the taste remains very intense. In addition, this method is also very easy: The herbs must only be chopped, portioned in a suitable container (for example, an ice cube mold), poured over with water and then frozen. Here they can be kept for up to twelve months and can be easily taken out for cooking in portions.
Pickling herbs in oil
Pickled herbs have for many only a nostalgic charm – but this kind of preservation is not old-fashioned at all and even very gentle for the aroma of the herbs. Especially in the Mediterranean cuisine, the pickling of basil and co. is still widespread and the pickled herbs belong in every good kitchen. For this purpose, the herbs are washed, cut and poured over with oil in a container. It is important here that the oil is a high-quality variety and all herbs are covered with oil. The advantage of this method is that you can mix the herbs with each other, but also with chili and garlic. After three to four weeks, you can finally strain and decant the oil: It now contains the full aromatic flavor of the herbs. According to the same principle, the herbs can also be pickled in mild vinegar.