I’m currently preoccupied with preserving the harvest [aside note to say that Preserving is now a category on this site rather than a tag]. This list includes herbs and while there are several ways that I go about ensuring that the herbs I grow are put to good use and available year-round, drying is by far the simplest, easiest, and in many ways most versatile way to do it.
I’ve tried many different methods over the years and tying up bundles to hang is the best method in my region for the majority of the herbs that I grow. I say “my region” because humidity has a profound effect on how quickly and effectively herbs dry, which is why unless I absolutely must harvest a particular plant, I prefer to avoid drying altogether when the humidity is high or there has been a lot of rain. Worse case scenario I will use my cheapo dehydrator and it gets the job done.
Some of My Tips for Hanging Herbs to Dry
- Harvest on a warm, dry, and sunny day about mid-morning after the dew has evaporated.
- Dry plants when they are at their peak and free from pests and disease. Slightly damaged plants won’t kill you, but why bother preserving that? For some herbs their peak is before they flower (i.e. lemon balm) and for others it can be during (i.e. I harvest some mints with their flowers and dry those, too).
- If possible, avoid washing herbs before hanging to dry — they almost always come out brown and any excess moisture can compromise the drying process. Unless they are covered in something unfortunate, I prefer to go ahead and hang dirty leaves as the excess dirt usually falls off.
- Tie plants into small bundles using elastic bands or string. Large bundles don’t dry well and are susceptible to mold or other fungal issues.
- Save time: These days I tend to harvest outside and process indoors, but when I had to travel from my community garden I found it useful to tie the herbs into bundles on the spot so that I did not have to sift through a tangle of assorted plants at home.
- Hang plants in a dark spot that has terrific air flow (doorways are good). My current set up is a piece of twine strung across a window in my dining room. I don’t suggest windows because of the light; however, that particular window is nestled between houses and receives almost no light. It’s best if you can string a line inside a doorway (without a door) or across the ceiling in a dimly lit room so that air can flow freely all around the leaves.
- In lieu of a twine clothesline I have also used a spring-loaded curtain rod affixed inside a door frame and a coat hanger will work for just a few small bundles.
- D.I.Y hanging hooks: I make my own using paper clips bent into an s-shape or Holiday ornament hooks (I always seem to have an abundance of these).
- Hang herbs inside paper bags if you are concerned about losing seeds, petals, leaves, and to keep dust and other debris from settling.
- Try not to hang bundles too close together. Again,you want to encourage as much air flow as possible in and around the leaves.
- Remove the bundles and store only when herbs are bone dry and brittle. Any moisture could compromise their integrity and encourage mold once packed away.
For more info on growing, preserving, and using herbs see the Herb Resources page on this site or my book, “Easy Growing: Organic Herbs and Edible Flowers from Small Spaces.”