Fresh herbs from a garden are one of the best ways to get good flavors into your cooking. Fresh herbs are also best for making medicines and dietary supplements. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, it is simply impossible to keep herbs growing year round. This makes it necessary to keep a supply of dried herbs available.
Commercial producers of dried herbs often have huge drying houses in which they can precisely control the temperature and humidity. These types of drying houses are usually out of reach for the home-grower; they are extremely expensive and take up too much room. For centuries, however, people have been drying herbs at home with good results. The process takes very little room, is inexpensive, and yields results that are just as good if not better than the commercial processors.
To start, gather together a pair of heavy duty scissors, a ball of twine or string, and some small or medium glass or plastic jars. The string does not need to be food-grade quality, such as that used by some butcher shops. Many people simply reuse old store bought spice jars. Next, thoroughly clean a small area of your house that has a constant temperature between 65 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit and very little exposure to light. Many people will typically use the back of a pantry or inside closet for this.
As drying herbs are exposed to light, the color of the herbs tends to blanche, leaving green leaves either yellow or brown. This will typically only effect the appearance of the herbs, however, blanched herbs are safe to eat and several people who do not mind the odd colors use a sunny space such as a back porch for drying herbs.
To dry most varieties of herbs, start by cutting whole stems near the base of the plant. Ideally, leave at least two inches between the end of the sprig and the first leaves of your cuttings. Use a damp cloth or paper towel to remove any dirt from the herbs, but do not soak them in water. Dry any excess water by laying the herbs flat on a clean towel. Then, gather together bundles of sprigs by the stems. Each bundle should have a diameter of about half an inch at the stem end (TIP: Each bundle of sprigs should be able to fit on a nickel at the stem end). DO not mix different herbs together in these bundles; herbs
Next, tie the bundles together using a clean piece of string or twine. Leave enough extra twine to form a second loop with the string that will be used for hanging the herbs. Tie the string tightly enough to hold the herbs in place while the bundle hangs, but not so tightly that the stems are damaged. If the stems start to break or ooze, cut off the damaged part of the stem and retie. Hang each bundle on hooks in your storage area. As the herbs dry, the stems will become loose in their bundles. Be sure to retie these bundles every few days to prevent herbs from falling out of the bundles completely. Note that different herbs will dry out at different rates. Typically herbs with short spiny needles, such as rosemary, will dry faster than those with broad flat leaves, such as sage or oregano.
The herbs are completely dry once they no longer need retying. If desired, completely dry herbs can be left in their bundles and used as needed. If the space is needed for other herbs, however, the leaves from each bundle can be separated from the stems and stored in glass or plastic jars.