Herbs are a great place to start when it comes to dehydrating—and gardening. Perennial herbs need little care once established and come back reliably in their beds year after year. Some annual and biennial herbs are self-seeding, making them seem perennial when they sprout unaided each spring. Those that need to be resown annually are often happy in pots or even on a sunny windowsill in even the smallest space tended by the newest gardener.
Most herbs get a production boost from regular cutting. Such plants quickly send out new shoots, becoming bushier and healthier the more that they are used. Hang some of those cuttings or throw them on a dehydrator tray, and you’ll never buy another jar of dried leaves. You can store them separately or combine them into a grab-and-go mix.
1 bunch fresh herbs
Harvest herbs midmorning, after the dew has evaporated but before the heat of the day starts to wilt the leaves. Cut woody stemmed herbs like mint and oregano, at their base, stripping off any yellowed leaves; harvest chives, cilantro, and basil as you would for fresh use.
Passively dry herbs with woody stems by hanging them from their stems, keeping them out of direct sunlight. Spread individual leaves and flowers, such as basil, cilantro, and chamomile, on a mesh screen and set in a warm dry place out of direct sunlight. Alternatively, lay any type of herb on dehydrator trays and dry them at the lowest setting.
Check for dryness by letting the herbs cool to room temperature, if necessary, and grabbing a few leaves: herbs are completely dry when the leaves or petals crackle and they are easily crumbled into small bits. Store each herb type separately in a small zip-close bag or glass spice jar in a cool, dry place out of direct light. Alternatively, choose some of your favorites and blend them together (see below).
Tips & Tricks
- It may seem that sunlight would speed up the passive drying process, but all it really does is lessen the flavor and color of herbs. It’s best to dry herbs in the shade.
- Dried herbs have a stronger flavor than fresh ones; you only need about one-third the amount. Since most recipes call for fresh herbs by the tablespoonful, I usually just swap a teaspoon for a tablespoon to get the right balance.
- Many herbs are prolific once established, and it’s easy to cut and dehydrate more than you can use before the next growing season. Keep a record of how many bundles or trays you dried in the first year, and compare that with what you have left at the start of the next season. Then, adjust your batches accordingly or plan to gift dried herbs or herb blends.
Twice as Tasty
I love herbs and spices; they can dress up a single fruit or vegetable side, shift a shrimp pasta from sweet to fiery, and prompt a “wow” for popcorn and a movie. I love spices so much that when we hitched a ride on a sailboat to Australia a few years back, I turned a toiletry bag into a spice kit that inspired sashimi dipping sauces, potato salad dressings, and Thai fish cakes onboard.
I tend to store most of my dried herbs separately so that I can mix and match for each dish, but if you find yourself using a certain blend regularly, it can speed up dinner if you mix it up in advance and just add a pinch or two straight to the pot. The variations are endless, but here’s an Italian blend you can make entirely from herbs you grew and dried.
Italian Seasoning Blend
1-1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1-1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
From your collection of recently dried herbs, measure out the required amount of each herb, lightly crushing whole leaves for more accurate measuring. Combine all ingredients in a small zip-close bag or spice jar, mixing gently to combine. Store in a cool, dry place out of direct light. Makes about 1/4 cup.
Tips & Tricks
- You can make a larger quantity at a time, but crushing the dried leaves releases some of the flavor. I prefer to work in small batches to retain as much flavor as possible.
- This blend is highly versatile. Use it in Pasta That Pops or any other type of pasta or pizza sauce. Make it the base for an oil- or cream-based salad dressing. Toss it with garlic powder and a bit of salt over buttered popcorn. Or use it as the base for a fish or meat marinade or rub.
- All of these herbs are easy to grow in most climates, but you can add or substitute others to match your harvest and your tastes. Other favorites for Italian dishes include thyme, marjoram, and sage. Garlic powder and dried red pepper flakes can also be added to the blend; just be sure to adjust the fresh portions in your recipe accordingly.