How to Dry Herbs for Medicinal and Culinary Use
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How to Dry Herbs for Medicinal and Culinary Use

Growing and drying your own medicinal and cooking herbs is easy and enjoyable. Learn how to dry herbs so they can be used all year long.

How to Dry Herbs

Ideally, herbs for drying should be harvested early in the morning. Make sure there is no excess moisture from dew or watering. Choose leaves and flowers that are healthy and vigorously growing, not those that are past their prime and starting to turn yellow or wilt.

Herbs need air circulation while they are drying so that they do not become moldy. This is especially true for herbs with thick leaves that take longer to dry, such as mullein or yerba santa. It is best to dry herbs on a screen drying rack, but if this is not available, they can be dried by spreading them out on newspaper. To improve air circulation, make sure that they are spread in a thin layer and not piled up. They should be dried out of direct sunlight. Herbs on long, sturdy stems such as lavender can be dried in a paper bag or in bundles hanging from the ceiling.

Label the drying rack with the name of the herb and the date. Some herbs look very similar once they are dried, and if you are drying several different herbs at the same time, you may not be able to tell them apart if they do not have a characteristic scent.

Garbling Dried Herbs

Once the herbs are dry, they need to be garbled. While garble usually means to mix something up and cause confusion, in the context of herbalism it means to separate out and save the parts of the herb that you want to keep. To garble dried herbs, carefully remove the leaves and flowers from the stem. The stems generally have little medicinal value and can be discarded. Dried lavender buds can be removed from the stem by sliding the stem through your fingers.

How to Store Dried Herbs

Dried herbs should be protected from exposure to moisture, air and direct sunlight. The medicinal properties are often found in the volatile oils, and these can be quickly degraded by UV light and oxygen. Wide-mouthed glass jars with tight-fitting lids are the best choice, such as canning jars or recycled peanut butter or pickle jars, but herbs can also be stored in plastic containers.

Stored properly, dried herbs should remain potent for about a year, possibly longer. You can tell whether a dried herb is still good by the color and scent. For herbs with a characteristic scent, such as peppermint or lemon balm, simply crush some between your fingers and smell it. If the scent is still strong, then it is usable. But if your red clover has turned brown or your sage smells like nothing but dust, discard it because it will have lost its potency.

Images copyright Terrie Schultz

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