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Most herbs dry easily, and if properly preserved, will retain their flavor and aroma long enough to carry you into the next growing season. As with a lot of gardening, timing is everything. Here are some tips for gathering, drying and keeping them fresh while in storage.
Each herb is different, but here are a few general rules for drying and storing herbs:
As a general rule, you can start harvesting when the plant has enough foliage to sustain growth. Harvest in the early part of the day and harvest no more than 2/3 of the plant at one time. Perennial herbs should not be harvested later than one month prior to the first frost to ensure they have time to store resources for winter.
The best way to dry herbs is to hang them and let them air dry. Clean herbs under running water if necessary. Shake off excess water and remove any dead or damaged foliage. Tie stems into small bundles and hang upside down to dry in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight. To catch seeds or petals, cover the flower end of the stems with a paper bag (with air holes). Other methods of drying include laying herbs across screens or drying them on the lowest settings of a food dehydrator or conventional oven or if you have the time and patience, drying them for short 1 to 2 minutes increments in a microwave (after a few days of air drying). When dry, leaves will be brittle and crumble easily. Store them in airtight glass or plastic containers (or bags) in a dark, dry location like a pantry or cupboard.
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I grew some wonderful lemon basil this summer. How do I dry it so I can enjoy it in the winter time? Many thanks for this great site. I have learned so much!
Hardiness Zone: 5a
By Paula from Niagara Falls, Ontario
Paula, I dry a variety of herbs and Lemon Basil is one of them. I pick the leaves early in the day after all dew or moisture is gone. I place a paper towel in the microwave on the turntable. Next, I spread out the leaves into one layer and try to not put one on top of the other. My microwave has different power levels and I use level #3. Start with 3 minutes then check. They should begin to look wilted. Microwave again for another 3 minutes on level 3. By this time, mine is usually done. It will be shriveled and crispy. I then let cool and then store in clean pint jars with a tight fitting lid. Moisture is the enemy of dried herbs and can cause mold to form so be sure to keep airtight. You might have to experiment with different time amounts and different temperatures. But this is what I do and it works well for me. Good Luck, Banty
I have grown sweet basil, purple basil and the very flavorful Thai basil, all of which are really yummy. I have a dehydrator, and have tried them that way, on the temp recommended, which is about 105, as i recall, same as my Greek oregano, but if you want it to taste really good, and have an idea how much you will generally use at a time, take the clean, dry, basil, put the fresh leaves, as many as you expect to use, in a fold of alum. Foil. Make as many folds of alum. Foil as you need, but work fast, and get them in a zip type bag, lay them flat in the freezer, and as you pick, just keep making small packets of leaves, put them in the bag, and you will have really fresh tasting basil when you pull it out. You have to get it out and cut or tear it quickly, and put it in the food, or use it as a garnish, but the scent, and flavor will still be fresh, and no dulling of color like there is when it is dried.
All you really need to do is set them out and let em dry naturally the best type of drying out herbs and em upside down on a piece of string on something up high like a lamp or something else that's able to be high enough so the water can drip out
Hardiness Zone: 8a
Becky from Charlotte, NC
It depends on what you're growing. I'm not sure if you're talking about harvesting the leaves, stems and seeds, or bringing the entire plant in for the winter. Some herbs, like basil for example, tend to taste bitter if harvested after the plant sets seeds. The same is true for most herbs that are harvested for their foliage. Once they bolt (set seed) their flavor is altered. As a general rule, herbs that will be used for their foliage should be harvested before they bolt. Herbs grown for seed should be harvested as their seedpods change from green to brown, but before the seeds drop or shatter. Herbs that will be harvested for their flowers should be harvested just before the flowers are fully open, and herbs that will be harvested for their roots can be harvested in the fall as soon as the foliage dies back. If your herbs still have foliage, try harvesting a few and drying them or adding them to dishes to test their flavor. If they taste fine to you, there is no harm in harvesting them this late.
If they have gone to seed, there might be a bitter taste.
Likely. If drying for storage the best time to harvest is when leaves are large and green, not dry. Wrap a medium bundle in large twist tie and hang upside
down in shade for about 10 days, then strip best
leaves and seed off stems inside large white plastic new garbage bag. After tossing all stems, pick out leaves and place in airtight containers for storage, sealing with scotch tape, marking date on top and labeling.
The residue is usually the seeds in the bottom of the sack, mixed with remnant leaf/stem particles. If possible, separate them by sifting in a flour sifter or finer sifter.
Store seeds in old envelopes, seal, lable and
date, writing any special instructions, descriptions you might not remember.
If all you got is seed and tiny dried up leaves, just use them anyway, being extra careful to remove all stems, and learn for the next year's use.
Store seed in a cool,dry place, not plastic bag. Beware of bugs attracted and able to eat into the paper.
My experience is mostly with Tarragon, Basil,
Garlic, Oregano, Lemon Balm, Curry, and the more common herbs over the years. I keep only what will grow with the least care. I've had the most luck here in N. Texas with these I've listed.
Good luck and God's blessings to you.
I harvest my herbs all through the season for drying. I also cut off the flowering stem to promote more leaf growth, however I do leave some of the flowers so the butterflies and bees have something to feed on.
This is a page about using a microwave for drying herbs. There are a number of ways you can make your own dried herbs.