As summer winds down, things change. The children go back to school, the days are getting shorter, and gardening season is drawing to a close. Given this, you may be wondering what to do with the herbal bounty still growing in your garden. Must you make pesto with all of your basil? Must you take all of your rosemary and make a chicken dish to feed fifty of your best friends? But while fresh crops are wonderful, your practice of herbalism doesn’t have to end with the summer.
Though you have many options, one way to enjoy these herbs well into the colder months is to dry them. Not only that, giving yourself access to dry herbs gives you the opportunity to experience all of the benefits of your garden without the need to constantly maintain it. The dryness of the herbs ensures that mold won’t grow all over them and cause them to go to waste.
Below are three easy ways to dry herbs as we find our way into Autumn.
1. Dry small-leaved herbs on a perforated surface.
Some herbs, like thyme and rosemary, feature smaller leaves and sprigs. These plants can best be dried by laying them out on a perforated surface like a woven tray or screen and leaving them in a shaded indoor setting for about a week. Be sure to keep them from overlapping with each other, as this leads to the moisture getting trapped.
2. Dry leafy herbs by hanging them.
Herbs with larger, fuller leaves like basil and mint have higher water content and are less likely to completely dry if they’re laid on top of each other on a flat surface. This is why it’s ideal for these types of herbs to be suspended in the air. Tie three or four sprigs of the herb together at the stem with gardener’s twine in a tight knot. Tie a loop a few inches away from the sprigs and hang the herbs on a peg or nail set away from the wall (e.g. an exposed beam in the ceiling). Hang them here for about two weeks.
3. Bake off excess moisture in the oven.
Sometimes, even after a couple of weeks of drying, the larger-leafed herbs still retain some of their moisture. To overcome this, remove the leaves of your herbs from the sprigs. Set your oven at the lowest setting (like 200-degrees), let it preheat for several minutes, turn off the oven, and place the herbs in for five minutes or so.
How do you know if you have successfully dried your herbs? The leaves will have retained their color (i.e. basil is green instead of brown) and a leaf will be crackly when you crumple it in your hand. Once they have been completely dried, place the whole leaves in a jar to be stored away from moisture and heat.