You pick up a bunch of basil or coriander for dinner, but use only half the leaves, meaning the bunches go to waste while sitting in your fridge. But it’s simple enough to dry these leftover herbs then build up your own condiments cupboard.
Or you may have a rosemary bush that you harvest as you need but this abundant supply of leaves can also be made into a gift in pretty little jars for friends and family.
Some herbs, such as rosemary, sage, thyme and bay leaves, are easier to dry than others because their leaves are firmer and they contain oils. Herbs with softer leaves, such as parsley, basil, mint and tarragon, are more affected by moisture and can go mouldy during the drying process.
It’s best to start the drying process as soon as possible after they have been picked, otherwise the leaves will start to wilt and lose flavour and colour. Many herbs need a gentle rinse to remove soil then a gentle shake and pat dry to remove the moisture. You should throw away leaves that are discoloured, bruised or damaged.
Drying the herbs indoors is the most popular method, especially for low-moisture leaves such rosemary and thyme, because you retain most of the important qualities such as flavour, smell and colour. Simply tie up the stems with string and hang upside down in a cool, dry, well-ventilated spot away from direct sunlight. Avoid areas too close to the kitchen, bathroom or laundry as these areas can be warm and moist. The drying time varies between different herbs, so don’t mix your bunches.
Drying time ranges from five days to a few weeks, depending on the moisture content of the leaves. You’ll know when the herbs are dried because the leaves become crisp and crumble easily.
You can speed up the drying by hanging them upside down in a paper bag, which also means any seed heads in your bunches don’t drop to the floor.
If you’re not excited at the prospect of your home being decorated with bunches of upside down leaves slowing desiccating, you can dry the herbs in your oven or microwave. This works best for leaves with a high moisture content such as basil, parsley, mint and coriander.
Turn on the oven at its lowest temperature setting, lay the herbs on baking paper and place on the lowest level of your oven, leaving the oven door slightly open. The time varies depending on the type of herbs – it can take an hour or two – but you can get a feel for their dryness by turning them over frequently. They’ll be ready when they are crisp (but not burnt) and crumble easily.
The microwave is a bit trickier and may require several attempts. Use the low power setting and blast away for between 30 and 60 seconds. Herbs with less moisture content, such as thyme and rosemary need less time, while those with high moisture content, such as parsley and basil, need longer. You may have to experiment by increasing or decreasing the time by 15 seconds and you should expect some wastage.
After the herbs are dry, crush them and keep them in an air-tight container, either a lidded jar or a resealable plastic bag. Drying makes the flavour of your herbs more intense, so while you may throw a tablespoon of fresh herbs in your cooking mix, you only need a teaspoon when they are dried.
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