In many cases drying herbs is unnecessary and just a little silly. If you have fresh lavender growing in your windowsill and want to make lavender cookies (which are a staple in our household), there is no reason to dry the lavender first. No reason at all. Simply pluck the lavender, remove the parts you won't be using, and toss the fresh lavender into the cookie dough. The same rule applies to just about any herb you have growing at the time. Fresh is generally better.
Bear in mind, however, that when using fresh herbs, you'll usually need more than you would if the herb was dried. This is because fresh herbs contain a great deal of water, water that is removed through the drying process, making the dried version much more potent. As a general rule, you'll want to use three times the amount of fresh herb, so if a recipe calls for 1 tbsp of dried lavender, you would use 3 tbsp of fresh lavender.
So fresh is better. But what if you have a bunch of herb on the vine that needs to be harvested all at once? It happens, and quite often. In this case, you'll want to store them for future use. You can, of course, store fresh herbs in a plastic bag for up to two weeks. Simply fold them inside a paper towel, place the entire thing in the plastic bag, and place the bag in the fridge. But what if you're not going to be able to use all your herbs within those two weeks? Well, drying is your best option. There are different methods for drying, each one dependent on the part of the plant being used.
Leaves are the probably the most common item to dry, at least in a home setting. They're also pretty easy to dry. Simply separate the leaves and place them on a drying sheet. If you don't have a drying rack, use a cooling rack, the kind you put cookies on to cool. Place this rack in a location where it will not be disturbed by anyone, making sure not to expose the leaves to direct sunlight or sudden changes in temperature. Turn the leaves twice a day until completely dry. Under normal conditions, your leaves should be dry within a week. If mold develops, discard affected plant material.
If you really get into growing your own herbs, you'll often find yourself drying flowers. There are basically two ways to do this--on the stalk and off the stalk. If you dry them off the stalk, you can dry them just like leaves. Personally, I prefer to dry them on the stalk. I've just had better results. Take your stalks, complete with flowers, and invert the entire thing, then hang it that way. I like to use clothespins on a string in my temple, but you can use any system you like. Just make sure your herbs have a steady humidity and temperature, and give flowers at least a full two weeks to dry.
If you're drying berries, which I do all the time, it's best to dry them on the stalk just like flowers. Absolutely keep them out of direct sunlight and give them a full month, sometimes six weeks, before you try to bag them. Make sure they'll fully and completely dry before you even attempt to bag them.
I love drying seeds because it's just so easy. First, separate them from the plant and remove any excess plant material. then get a piece of cheesecloth or an organza pouch or something similar. Hang the bag just like you would hang berries or flowers, making sure to shake the bag once a day to rotate the seeds. Seeds normally take two to four weeks to truly dry, so be patient.
I hate roots. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Why do I hate them. Because they take forever to dry. And when I say forever, I mean about a year. Seriously. They might look dry after a month, but the inside is not dry. Not at all. They really need nine to twelve months. You can use drying racks, but since the roots have to dry for such a long time, I prefer to use organza bags (pretty ones) and hang the roots like I would seeds. Then I can ignore them for a year. Just remember to check for mold periodically.
There are other ways to dry herbs, including using a food dehydrator or even the oven, but the faster you dry herbs, the more of their potency you'll lose. So take your time, dry them naturally, and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Welcome to the Order of the Sacred Star! This Pagan/Wiccan group, based in Winnipeg, Canada, is committed to teaching the Craft to all those who wish to learn. Our goal is to provide a complete and fulfulling learning experience. Our public classes are offered through the Winnipeg Pagan Teaching Circle.