Why dry herbs?
For one thing, it's a really simple way to preserve your herbs for later use, whatever that may be – from making tea to salves to tinctures. It’s also a fairly easy way to deal with a bunch of herbs that you don’t have immediate plans for, so you don’t have to dive into epic herbal projects for every herb in your CSA share right away. Dried herbs are nice for making tea too, as the flavor is concentrated by removing most of the moisture from the plant.
How to know when herbs are dry?
Most herbs are dry when the leaves are crumbly. Ideally the stems “snap” too but if they don’t, just remove the leaves from the stem and compost the stems (if you include them with your stored herbs they will rehydrate the rest unless they are dry too). Flowers are generally dry when they crumble, or for calendula, when the centers can be snapped with your fingernail.
Once dried, herbs are best stored in airtight glass jars, away from direct light in a cool storage area.
There are several drying methods you can use.
#1 Heat, forced-air dehydrator.
Set the thermostat to between 90 – 100 degrees. Roots can take higher temperatures than delicate flowers or leaves. Turn the herbs several times for even drying. This can take up to several days depending on the plant and weather. We use a large scale dryer at the farm using solar heat in our greenhouse, but we also have a small Excalibur dryer which I have found very useful over the years for particularly moist herbs or during a stretch of rainy days.
#2 Bunching herbs and hanging to dry.
I like to put up a line of twine in our kitchen and tie herb bunches onto it to dry. Our CSA bunches tend to be large and I’d separate them into at least two portions for hanging. This method works especially well for less moisture-rich herbs like sage, thyme, rosemary, savory, horsetail, etc. Keep them out of the sun while drying. And when they are dry put them in storage rather them keep them hanging all year long (although that can be nice too).
#3 In the oven, on very low heat with the door partially open.
#4 Sunny day. Hot car.
Windows slightly open for ventilation. Lay herbs on racks or paper out of direct sunlight.
#5 Herbs in brown paper bags.
Nettles dry well this way. Fill up the bag halfway and separate the leaves from the stems for faster and more even drying.
#6 Laying herbs out on screens.
This allows for good ventilation and works well with flowers, though petals may stick to the screens slightly.