Anyone with a home garden or even a boisterous windowsill flower box probably has been faced with the dilemma of having an abundance of herbs and not knowing what to do with the excess. Or how about the times when a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh basil and you practically have to buy a tree of the stuff, leaving you with more herb than you know what to do with? These situations call for drying, something easy to do that makes you sound like an awesome chef when, at your next dinner party, you offer a homemade spice blend with herbs treated right there. With this in mind, don't waste and instead make those excess herbs work for you.
Home-Dried vs. Store-Bought Herbs
When you dry your own herbs, you can guarantee that they're fresh, whereas some store-bought ones may have been sitting around for a long time before you add them to your grocery basket. Even if the ones you get at the grocery are flavorful and plenty fresh, it can help save money to dry them at home, especially if you're growing them in a garden.
For example, a jar of organic thyme will cost you around $7, whereas a living plant runs closer to $3. You can save the seeds and plant again or let it continue to grow and harvest each time you need to replenish your stash. It can also be helpful when you need to dry all the leftover bunches of cilantro from taco night.
What Herbs Can You Dry
So, now that you're eager to dry your own herbs, it's good to look at what's available and what dries best. Each herb has its own nuances such as water content, essential oil levels, and proclivity to mold, so it's good to do a little research before you have at it. Some, like basil, sage, cilantro, and rosemary prove simple to start since they have larger, solid leaves and don't require much maintenance before the process. Others, including tarragon, thyme, and dill need more care to remove the smaller leaves from bigger stems. Good news, you can actually dry any herb you want, just make sure to label them at the end since piles of dried green start to look the same.
Keep in mind a lot of people feel herbs lose potency when dried, but really the dried version tends to offer more of a punch per ounce. It's a slightly different flavor since fresh tastes, well, greener. That doesn't mean dry herbs should be ignored. There's a lot of uses for this ingredient. Plus, wouldn't you rather add a pinch of dried basil to the spaghetti sauce rather than skip it? We know we would!
The oldest way to dry herbs is to take a bunch, hang it upside down in a dark and arid basement, attic, or closet, and let nature do the work. This method can work wonderfully, but it's not the only option. Here are four other great ways to preserve those fresh herbs.
This method has a rich history in culinary and medicinal lore and was the way most apothecaries and cooks dried herbs back in the day. You can either hang a bunch (approximately an inch in diameter) of whole herbs upside down, as we mentioned before. Once all the moisture has left, then crumble the dried leaves into a container and preserve it. Make sure you use a rubber band to hold the fresh herbs together, as when the herbs dry, the stems will shrink and the rubber band will make sure to keep the bind tight.
The other way to air dry involves plucking the leaves from the stems and laying them out to dry on a rack or tray—just make sure there isn't a breeze that'll blow the leaves away. It's also a good idea to put the vessel in a clean area without a lot of dust. Dark and temperate proves best, though if the only space you have is on top of your fridge, that can work, too. Both air-drying methods take approximately a week to complete, all depending on the natural humidity of where you are. The wetter the air, the longer it will take. A simple crumble test can determine if they are ready. If you take a leaf in your palm and crush it, does it come apart easy? If so, you're ready to store.
That's right, you can dry herbs in a microwave and it's pretty easy to do! First, separate the leaves from stems and wash the parts you want to save. Once the greens aren't wet anymore, microwave between two paper towels for one minute. Check and if needed continue to zap in 30-second intervals until done.
A home dehydrator proves a great way to dry herbs in bulk, especially if your device has mesh inserts, which keep the leaves from falling. Make sure the leaves are clean and undamaged and then put them in a single layer on each tray. Cook at the lowest setting for approximately two to four hours. The hardest part is removing the herbs from the trays. It's best to do this over a clean cloth or bowl so the broken bits can be saved and stored as well.
Don't have a gadget to dry herbs? No problem! Your regular oven can also do the job. It's best to get a muslin or cheesecloth to lay the plucked leaves on, that way they won't stick to a baking pan. Silicone mats also work very well. Set the machine on the lowest setting and "bake" for around 30 minutes. You'll know they are dried when the leaves crumble easily and there's no pull when you try and tear them.
How to Store Dried Herbs
Just as you buy a glass bottle of dried herbs at the grocery, this is the best way to store home-dried herbs. You can save up old bottles or jelly jars (all cleaned well of course) and use those, or find an airtight plastic container. The latter might not look as good, but it works just as well. When storing, decide if you want to save the whole leaf or crumble it up. For some items such as basil or mint, it's easiest to crush the leaves. The benefit of keeping the leaves whole is you get a little more fragrance when you crush them as needed.
How to Cook With Dried Herbs
Overall there's not much difference in cooking with dried herbs versus cooking with fresh, that is until it comes to quantity. Because dried foods tend to intensify the flavor, you need three times the amount of fresh herbs to give the recipe the same nuances. Of course in some situations fresh may taste better. Think tossed in salads, Thai food, and fresh basil on a caprese salad. But often the dried works the same way. This proves especially true in meals that get cooked be that stewed, baked, or fried.
Recipes Using Dried Herbs
You can throw dried herbs in a pot of soup, rub onto fish, sprinkle over a salad, stir into tomato sauce, and so much more. This ingredient shows versatility and by drying, you are preserving a flavorful season to use in your cooking all year round.
Play around with flavors and try a new spice blend the next time you whip up dinner. Below are a few of our favorites: