If you grow your own herbs, you can often end up harvesting more than you can use in the short span of time while they’re still fresh. Most can last for a week or two in the fridge, but to keep them longer, consider drying them. You don’t need an electric dehydrator or an elaborate drying rack. All you need is a dry, dark room, or a microwave or conventional oven. Either way, herbs are dry and ready for storage when they crumble as you pinch them.
Herbs are most flavorful when picked just before flowering. Clip the stems an inch or so from the base, shake them lightly and use a small stiff brush to remove debris. If you used pesticides, rinse herbs thoroughly with water.
Hanging Herbs to Dry
Choose a dry, well-ventilated room that receives minimal light. In a moist environment, they simply rot, while sunlight causes the flavor and color to fade. An attic is often best, a closet acceptable, and a basement is usually a poor choice. Once you’ve chosen a location, tie an unwaxed paper bag or piece of cheesecloth around each bunch of herbs and hang them upside down. The covering catches leaves that fall, keeps dust off, and protects the herbs from light. Drying should take one to two weeks, but check them every other day.
Drying Herbs in an Oven
To speed the process, you can use a conventional oven or a microwave. If using an oven, arrange the herbs on a cookie sheet on the center rack, with the oven at its lowest setting (maximum 100°F) and the door slightly ajar. Mix occasionally to ensure consistent results.
To dry herbs in a microwave, do it on a dry, sunny day, since dry herbs can reabsorb moisture in damp weather. Place a layer of herbs between paper towels and set the microwave on defrost for about three minutes, pausing every 30 seconds to turn the leaves over. Herbs are more likely to scorch in a microwave than in an oven, so keep a close eye on them.
To prevent mold, always make sure herbs are completely dry before storing them. Place them in jars with airtight lids (and preferably made of dark-colored glass or food-safe plastic) away from heat and light. Mark the date on the jar - most dried herbs retain their flavor for about a year.