Food and Nutrition

How To Dry Fresh Herbs Before They Wilt Away

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Photo: Getty Images/robynmac
As summer harvest season draws to a close, the time has come to figure out what to do with the fresh produce you won't be able to eat now, but don't want to wind up as food waste. Perhaps your canning your tomatoes as pasta sauce, pickling your cucumbers, and starting to turn your basil into pesto—all great choices. Another? Dry fresh herbs to add to soups and dishes all fall and winter long.

When it comes to preserving these aromatics, there are a wide range of techniques that you may employ. You could use an oven, a dehydrator, or some other fancy tool for example. Or, you could abide by the advice of Kalei Buczek, a garden expert and manager of ReWild plant and flower studio in Washington, DC: Simply go the old-fashioned route. “I stand by air-drying when it comes to preserving herbs,” she says.

This process involves bundling herbs with twine and hanging them upside down. “You’ll want to harvest your herbs at peak freshness,” Buczek advises. This ensures that you’re able to extract the most flavor out of them.

When bundling, Buczek says not to get overzealous. “You’ll want to make sure you aren't bundling too much together,” she says. Otherwise, the inner pieces won’t dry as effectively as the outer pieces, which not only results in fewer dried herbs but, more importantly, could introduce mold to the whole bunch.

“Additionally, you want to make sure your herbs are drying somewhere with good air flow,” Buczek adds. Avoid places that are too humid or dank, she suggests, which probably rules out your bathroom. “Basements are popular as they are cool, dark, and stay a consistent temperature,” she says. If you don't have a subterranean space in your home, try a closet or pantry.

Once your herbs are completely dry (normally about seven to 10 days, or when they're crunchy and crackly), Buczek points out that care is key when it comes to storing your newly preserved aromatics. “The dry herbs will be brittle, so be careful handling them once they are fully dried out,” she says. “Be sure to store them in an airtight container."

If you can't wait a week or so for herbs to dry, you can also use a microwave or oven to expedite the process, Buczek says. For the former option, place four or five bunches of herbs between two paper towels, and then zap them for two to three minutes. If they're not dry after that, continue to microwave them in 30-second intervals until all the moisture is removed. In a conventional oven, you can dry fresh herbs by placing bundles on a cookie sheet at 180 degrees for two to four hours.

Whatever method you choose, your future self with thank you for drying your fresh herbs now to use later.

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