Drying Leaves and Stems of Herbs
In order to have herbs on hand later in the year I begin to preserve them during their active growing seasons. To preserve the leaves of a plant by drying I snip off a few stems before the plant blooms and bundle them (5-10 stems) together. I tie the bundles with twine or elastic. Elastic works very well because it will still hold the bundles when the stems shrink due to evaporation. Once bundled I hang the herbs upside down in a dark, dry place. A spare bedroom, the attic, a storage shed or garage are great spaces. Just make sure not to hang them where they would be exposed to car or other noxious fumes.
Here at home, I found that the garden shed is a great place to dry my herbs. It is dark and has shuttered windows that I keep open for airflow. At times I also hang some herbs in the garage. (Our car is never parked there.) I plan out ahead of time which herbs to harvest and dry together. It is important to keep strong smelling herbs, like mind and lovage, away from other herbs while drying to ensure the scents do not mingle.
Most herbs take about two weeks to dry. If I notice that the leaves do not easily crumble, I give them more time to dry. I want them to be dry but not so dry that they turn into powder the moment they are touched.
Also, while I am drying a batch of herbs I make sure not to introduce new, freshly cut herbs to the same area. The drying herbs could absorb the new moisture as well as the scents.
I have tried to dry herbs in the oven, but I don’t find it works as well as drying them the natural way. The temperature in the oven is too high, evaporation happens too fast, and so the essential oils are lost. Also, it is a lot cheaper to hang herbs up to dry than to heat the oven for many hours while the air conditioner is running.
I live in Virginia. Our summers can get very hot and humid. During humid days drying can be a challenge. I have found that it may take a little longer, but I’ve not had something not dry. To compensate for the humidity. I make sure I only bundle few stems, no more than 5 during the hottest days of summer.
Storing your dried leaves
Once the herbs are nicely dried, I pick the leaves off without crushing them, and store them in a clean, air-tight, labeled jar in a dark space because heat and light diminish their quality.