The drying process of herbs is an art in itself. Harvesting, laying on a plate and waiting for the moisture to evaporate from the plant parts is unfortunately not enough here. Because in order to preserve the aroma and not least the healing properties of the herbs while drying, a few additional steps are required. Our guide on the subject provides all the details.
Why dry herbs?
There are many reasons why you should dry herbs better. In some cases, harmful ingredients can be neutralized, which can only exist in the fresh or moist herb. However, more often herbs are simply dried because they have a longer shelf life and allow you to stock up on them. When it comes to aromatic herbs in particular, it is often simply easier to grind dried plant parts and then use them to flavor food. And the production of oil extracts, tinctures, creams or ointments is made considerably easier by dried herbs.
Which herbs are suitable for drying?
Not all herbs respond equally well to the drying process. Aroma-sensitive plants such as borage or delicate cress, for example, lose a large part of their aroma here. Experience has shown that basil, parsley and chives also react poorly to drying. Since the herbs contain very high amounts of water, in which ultimately the taste and aroma of the plants are dissolved, the active substances usually evaporate with the plant liquid when drying. In the case of thin chives, there is not much left of the plant anyway, once it has dried. Therefore, it makes more sense to freeze the kitchen herbs in question or use them fresh.
On the other hand, the drying can survive woody or semi-woody herbs relatively well. Since their shoots and leaves are inherently more robust, the active ingredients they contain also survive the drying process better. Resistant, non-woody herbs such as nettle or peppermint have also proven themselves as dry herbs. Below is a small selection of traditional herbs that are particularly suitable for drying:
- Johannis herbs,
- and thyme.
The harvest is before drying
To prepare for the drying of the herbs, they must first be harvested. There are a few basic things to consider here.
Right harvest time
Not all herbs are harvested at the same time. The flowering time of the plants is usually a decisive criterion here. If the flowers of an herb are to be dried themselves, they must of course be harvested during the flowering period. Stems or leaves, on the other hand, have to be removed before harvesting, or even better before budding. The reason for this is the fact that herbs, like all plants, increasingly use nutrients and energy to produce buds and flowers during the flowering phase. All other parts of the plant therefore lose active ingredient content. In addition, the herbal aroma is significantly reduced during and after flowering.
Real harvest weather
Herbs are ideally harvested on a rain-free day, when the leaves and stems had previously enjoyed sunny weather for a few days. This increases the aroma of the plants. The right time of day must also be observed, because it is best to harvest plants in the morning when they are fully in the sap.
Herbs intended for drying should not be cut indiscriminately from the plant. Only young, healthy shoots are taken, which are neither ailing nor pale leaves. When harvesting flowers (e.g. chamomile or marigold), care should be taken to choose young inflorescences that are not yet wilting.
Suitable harvesting tools
In order not to injure the plant too much during the harvest - after all, if possible, it should also throw off the harvest the following year - it is important not to pluck parts of the plant with your bare hands. The only exception here are leaf herbs, which can be easily removed from the plant stem without leaving large wound areas. That works for example with peppermint or lemon balm. Plants such as rosemary or thyme, on the other hand, which not only have very tight and small leaves, but also have woody stems, must be harvested with a clean, sharp knife. One should not cut too deeply into the woody part of the plant shoots, but must focus on the young shoot tips. For non-woody plants, well-sharpened kitchen scissors can be used instead of a knife.
Prepare herbs to dry
Fruits are usually cleaned and washed properly after harvesting. This step should be avoided with herbs. Because the water shower in particular scented and spice plants lose some of their aroma. If washing is unavoidable, just shower the plants for a moment and then pat dry with kitchen paper. No water residues may remain on the plant parts before drying.
In most cases, however, a short shake is enough before the herbs begin their drying process.
Dry herbs properly
There are various methods of drying herbs. The simplest and at the same time gentle and oldest method is air drying. It is also possible to dry herbs in the oven or to use a special dehydrator. However, both drying processes carry the great risk that the herbs will lose their aroma as well as their essential oils, in which, as is well known, many plants have a large amount of healing agents dissolved. Nevertheless, here is an overview of all three drying options.
Air dry herbs
Anyone who has collected entire shoots simply hangs up their herbs to air dry. Individual leaves, flowers and similarly small parts of plants, on the other hand, are dried “lying down”. The hanging variant is much less complicated here. To do this, first free the harvested shoots from any side shoots and leaves in the lower quarter. Then the herb shoots are tied together with a rubber or a string to form small bouquets. Small parts of plants can instead be spread out on a tray lined with kitchen paper or linen, with no parts of plants allowed to lie on top of each other. They are then covered with a clean cloth to dry.
The correct room temperature for air drying is max. For both hanging and drying on the cloth. 35 ° C. In addition, the place for drying should be protected from the wind and shady. Because only in the dark and without being shaken by gusts of wind can the moisture be released from the herb plants without losing too many ingredients. The drying time for air drying is about 3 to 5 days.
Herbs dry in the oven
If you want to go fast, you can also dry herbs in the oven if necessary. However, it should be noted that this drying process means a significant loss of taste and active ingredient. In particular, essential oils and flavors such as flavonoids often only survive the oven to a limited extent.
In order to carry out the drying in the oven, the herbs are chopped in advance, for example with scissors. Then put them on a baking sheet lined with baking paper, on which the herbs should not overlap, similar to the tray used for air drying. The herbs are then gently dried at an oven temperature of around 50 ° C. Drying time here: approx. 2 to 3 hours.
Dry herbs in the automatic dehydrator
A dehydrator is actually intended to dry fruit and vegetables. Some also use it to dry herbs. Basically, the drying process here is the same as in the oven. The herbs are distributed on the various levels of the automatic dehydrator and then slowly dried at low temperatures between 30 ° C and 50 ° C. The disadvantage of this drying process is that ingredients such as essential oils evaporate quickly due to the high temperatures. This method is also not very beneficial for the taste and the effect of the dried herbs.
Store dried herbs properly
A dark place and an airtight container are important for storing herbs. Are suitable
- Tupper boxes,
- Mason jars
- and plastic bags,
When storing with a bag, it is essential to ensure that air is stripped out as well as possible before closing. The herbs can later be used either for the production of herbal teas and for seasoning or for herbal oils and tinctures. Mixing the ground herbs into creams is also conceivable. However, as with herbal ointments, herbal oils are usually used for this. (ma)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Miriam Adam, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Wolfgang Zemanek: Drying & Drying: Fruit, herbs, vegetables and mushrooms, Stocker, L, 2010
- Engelbert Kötter, Walldürn-Rippberg: Herbs: Processing: Products with fresh herbs, Federal Center for Nutrition, (accessed: August 20, 2019), Federal Center for Nutrition