The Joys of Dehydrating Herbs: Five Methods to Try
I have an old dehydrator that I love. I purchased it used, many years ago, I don’t even remember where. There is absolutely nothing fancy about it. My dehydrator uses radiant heat and does not have a way to control the temperature. I like it because it is quiet and because you can add herbs, fruits or veggies and walk away.
This week I am dehydrating herbs like a maniac!
It started a few weeks ago when I saw this post for Rose & Bee Balm Oxymel and I thought …wait a minute…I have roses that haven’t been sprayed. I have a beautiful Bee Balm plant on my patio, I have honey, I have apple cider vinegar. I can do that!
Dehydrating is the process of removing water from herbs or foods. Once they are dried and placed in containers away from moisture, your herbs will last for at least a year.
This is my frugal way to add to my herb stash.
Luckily there are several ways to dehydrate fresh herbs. Find the one that is right for you.
Five Herb Dehydrating Methods:
1. You can use the oven – Place your herbs in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Set the oven temperature at 180- 200 degrees F and put the cookie sheet inside. Prop the door open to let the moisture escape.
Watch your herbs, stirring if needed and remove them when they are completely dry. Be careful that you do not burn them. See this Iowa State University publication for more information.
2. You can use Dehydrators. Using my simple machine, I place my herbs on the dehydrator trays and check after 30 minutes. Stir if necessary. After an hour, I stir the herbs and move the bottom stack to the top. There are simple and complex dehydrators. Luckily my simple dehydrator is all that is needed to dry delicate herbs. For now, my quiet machine works just fine!
Keep in mind that herbs need a lower temperature setting in the dehydrator than fruit and vegetables. The ideal temperature range in a normal climate is 95°F – 115°F. If you struggle with high humidity up the temperature to 125° F. Add the fresh herbs in a thin layer and let them dry for up to 4 hours.
To check whether the herbs have been thoroughly dried, keep them in a mason jar with the lid on overnight in a warm room. If there’s still moisture in the herbs, you’ll see condensation on the jar the next day. Add the herbs to the dehydrator and resume drying, unless you want fungus to ruin your stash.
3. You can use the Sun (It’s free!). When sun drying, you need a way to protect your precious herbs from bugs, being blown away by the wind, or being covered in dust. Some people use the back window of their vehicle or you might want to try making a Solar Food Dehydrator from scratch for bug-free outdoor drying experience.
Caution: The DIY Solar Food Dehydrator project is not for the faint of heart.
You will need:
-// Thin Ply Wood (Body)
-// 4 2.5′ Long 2″ x 4″s
-// 10 feet of 2″ x 2″ wood
-// Table Saw
-// A Window (20″ x 23 1/8″)/ Slab of Transparent Plastic
-// Stretchable Fabric for the Drying Rack
-// A Couple of Hinges and A Hook & String
-// Caulk (optional)
Does this project sound like too much of an investment? Fret not! Most of the materials on the list were salvaged. Here are the step-by-step instructions.
4. You can let nature take its course. Air drying is another popular method used to dry herbs. You can use whole branches or stems, gather 8 to 12 stems in a bunch. Tie the ends of the stems together and hang each bunch upside down in a warm (70-80 F), dry area making sure your herbs are out of direct sunlight.
The herbs should be dry in 2 to 4 weeks. When thoroughly dry, strip the leaves from the plants. This is the method I used for drying my lavender harvest this year.
You might want to check out my related post on drying herbs: How Do I Store That? Dried Herbs. I’ve given there some tips for air drying herbs like Grandma used to do it, along with the best way to store the dried herbs. Air drying herbs is the cheapest and most natural way of preserving your fresh herbs for the winter.
5. Microwave ovens work well for dehydrating, especially when it is very humid and it would take too long for our herbs to air dry. The process is simple. Clean and dry your herbs then lay them out in a single layer on a piece of paper towel. Heat them in 30-second increments until they are completely dry. Be warned – I’ve started herbs on fire before, so watch them carefully. See this Organic Gardening article for more details.
What have I been dehydrating? Why herbs from my garden, of course…
- Raspberry leaf to use as a tasty tea.
- Many kinds of mint – peppermint, orange and spearmint to use in teas and other herbal preparations. There is so much you can do with mint!
- Pineapple sage leaves are edible and can be steeped in hot water to make an herbal tea or jam.
- Lemon Verbena for making teas and tinctures.
- Bee Balm and Rose Petals for that oxymel that I plan to make this week.
- Don’t miss 101 Dehydrator Recipes from Mom With a Prep.
- And if you’re a backpacker or avid thru-hiker, here are some delicious DIY ready-to-eat meals for the trail from 100% dried ingredients, including sauces. (Thank you Backpacking Chef for sharing your wisdom!)
If I were going to purchase a new dehydrator, this is what I would buy (because the heat blows from the top down). Plus, these are some of my favorite dehydrating books at Amazon:
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