MH Bonham is an award-winning author and editor. Bonham is also the author of more than 50 books as well as thousands of articles.
You've grown herbs for herbal tea or tisane, and you're now ready to harvest them and dry them. But what is the best method for drying herbs? Should you dry them in your oven? Should you buy a dehydrator? Should you simply air dry?
The good news is that drying herbs for tea is relatively simple, but you should be aware that some methods are better than others. I'll discuss each of the ways to dry your herbs, and you can decide what's right for you.
Gathering Your Herbs
If you're gathering herbs from your own garden, do so around mid-morning after the dew has dried but the sun hasn't bleached out the essential oils in them. Plants like basil, oregano, mint, and thyme should be cut to include branches so that if you decide to use the simple air-dry method, you can tie the branches together and hang them. If you're planning on using a dehydrator, the branches will also hold tiny leaves, like that of the thyme plant, from falling through the drying racks.
I recommend rinsing the herbs in clean water to remove insects and debris from them, but if you grow your herbs without pesticides, you may opt to simply dry them without washing them. I wash them in clean water because they're going to be dried anyway, so the water won't really matter.
Air Drying Herbs: A Low-Cost Method
The cheapest and easiest method for drying is using the air to dry your herbs. Gather the herbs into a bundle with the cut stems facing the same way and use twist ties, wire, string, or rubber bands to tie the stems together. If you live in a particularly dusty climate or have a wood stove, you'll probably want to tie a paper or grocery bag loosely around the herbs and poke holes in them to allow ventilation. If you live in a relatively clean place with not a lot of dust, cheesecloth works well.
Hang the herbs on the wall in a warm place stems up. How long it will take to dry out depends on the temperature of your house and the humidity. The lower the humidity your air is, the more likely your herbs will dry quickly. Warm and dry is best. I discovered this quite by accident in the summer when I left some catnip on a table. A few weeks later when I found them, the catnip was dry enough to store.
Check on your herbs frequently. The herbs should have no pliability and should break easily in your hands when dry. (The stems may be pliable or completely dry, depending on how long you dry your herbs.) Remove the paper bag and untie the bundle. Strip the leaves from the stems over a plate. Pour the dried herbs in an airtight container.
Using a Dehydrator
The best method I've found when it comes to drying herbs is using a dehydrator like the Nesco dehydrator I use. The plus side is that you get consistent results and nearly perfect results every time. The bad news is that these cost anywhere from $40 to $200, depending on the make and model you choose. Still, if you're planning on drying more than just herbs occasional (they make fruit leather, jerky, and dried fruits and vegetables simple), it'll be worth it to take the plunge. It gives you an extra option for food preservation.
Using the dehydrator is easy. Set your herbs in the trays and leave a little room for air circulation between branches and leaves. Set the dehydrator to 135ºF and place the trays in the dehydrator. Leave in the dehydrator until the herbs are dry -- from 12 to 24 hours. Unplug the dehydrator and let cool for a few hours. Remove the dried herb leaves from stems and store in an airtight jar.
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Drying Herbs in the Oven
Dehydrating herbs in the oven will definitely heat up your house and will use a lot of electricity or gas, depending on what type of stove you have. On the other hand, if it's all you have, or if you only dry herbs occasionally, this may be a more viable option for you.
You'll have to get your oven to about 135ºF—something most ovens don't get low enough to do—so you'll have to put your oven on the lowest temperature, turn it off when it reaches the lowest temperature, and use a thermometer to determine when it reaches 135ºF and how long it stays that way. You'll also have to figure out a way to provide air circulation.
Experiment with your oven and see if you can at least keep a temperature range between 100ºF and 145ºF. You may have to prop the door open to keep the oven from getting too hot and turn the herbs over for even drying.
Drying Herbs in the Microwave
I know that this is a favorite of many folks, but after having lit my herbs on fire, I'm kind of leery about using a microwave for drying herbs. You can try it by wrapping the herbs in paper towels (again, flammable) and microwaving on high for a minute. Let them cool for about 30 seconds. Then microwave them again on high for 30 seconds. You'll want to repeat the cool 30-second cycle and microwave on high for 30 seconds until they're dry. (Check the herbs in between cycles.)
This method isn't particularly good at drying. You'll have better success with air drying by hanging the herbs or using a dehydrator.
Storing Tisane Herbs
When your herbs are completely dry, hold them over a plate and strip the leaves from the stems. The plate should catch any herbs that fall while you're pulling them off the stem.
Be sure to store your tisane herbs in an airtight container such as a recycled glass jar or a mason jar. Check on the herbs the next several days to see if there is any moisture present. If there is, you need to take them out and dry them some more. If you allow your tisane herbs to stay in the jar while moist, you will soon have mold and have to throw them out.
The herbs will keep best when stored in a dark place, away from light. You can then enjoy your tea in the upcoming months.
What to Do with Those Stems
If you dry herbs with the stems, chances are you have a lot of stems. You can throw them out, but you can also use them.
- Burn the herb stems in a fireplace or wood stove in the winter for a fragrant touch.
- Add them to your potpourri.
- Weave them into fall wreaths to add fragrance.
- Grind them and use that as a powdered form of the herb.
Questions & Answers
Question: After the leaves are dry, is it best to crumble them, or do whole leaves make better tea?
Answer: You can do either. If you crumble them, it will make a stronger tea. Plus a teaspoon of crumbled herbs will have more herbs than a teaspoon of whole leaves, so it will naturally be stronger.
© 2017 MH Bonham