Whether you have a large garden or a tiny outside space, growing herbs can be one of the most rewarding gardening experiences. You can grow herbs inside on your windowsills even when you have no outside space at all. If you do have a garden, you can find a place for them in your polytunnel garden, or in outside growing areas. You could also grow herbs in a mini polytunnel to keep them safe from weather and pests. When you grow herbs you can add flavour to dishes with fresh herbs throughout the year and can also have access to herbs you have dried for use in a wide range of recipes. In this guide, herb growers can learn more about drying herbs at home.
When Should You Be Drying Herbs?
Drying herbs from your polytunnel in late autumn or early winter can help to make sure you continue to eat well over the winter months. Even in mid winter when outside, the whole plant world seems to be sleeping, inside your home, you can still be reaping the bounty harvested the previous year. You may still be eating fruits and vegetables from store – potatoes, root vegetables, squash or pumpkins, preserves, pickles and chutneys. Drying herbs from your garden can also ensure that you have flavoursome editions to add to all your winter recipes.
However, you do not have to wait until late autumn or winter, as you can dry herbs from your garden at any time of the year. It is best to take cuttings for drying from healthy plants that are at the peak of production and growth. Drying herbs could be a good way to preserve a glut of fresh herbs harvested during the summer months too. If you pick
Which Herbs Can Be Dried?
Some herbs fare better than others when dried. Amongst the herbs that are perfect for drying are:
- lemon verbena.
Other herbs, such as:
can be dried but will lose some of their potency and flavour in the process. If you wish to preserve this latter group for later use then freezing the fresh herbs could be a better option.
Leafy herbs like basil, coriander and parsley will not respond well to drying. To preserve the fresh herb flavour of these herbs, the best option is to freeze them. There are various different methods which allow you to do so in a convenient way. One method involves chopping the herbs finely and packing them into an ice cube tray before topping off with a little water (or vegetable stock). You can then simply pop the cubes out of the tray and use them as required later in the year. Another method is to blend your herbs into a paste with a little oil or water (or make a full pesto) before you freeze them. Frozen cubes can be stored in an airtight container in a freezer for up to 3-4 months.
How To Dry Herbs
Drying herbs is easy. The key thing to remember is that high humidity is not your friend when it comes to drying herbs. The following methods can be used to dry herbs in the UK:
The easiest way to dry herbs at home is to spread out herbs in a warm spot, out of direct sunlight, until they are relatively dry. The time it will take to dry your herbs will depend on the type of herbs you are drying, as well as on the humidity levels and temperatures that you are drying the herbs at. Generally speaking, you can expect your herbs to be fully dry within around 3-4 weeks. Drying herbs on a cooling rack or similar is a good idea as this will allow for good airflow around the drying herbs.
Other Drying Methods
The sun can be used to dry herbs quickly, through the use of a solar dehydrator. You can also leave them on a rack in a sunny greenhouse or in your car, though humidity can be a problem. If, as is so often the case in the UK, the sun is elusive, you can also dry herbs but putting them in your oven on a low, low temperature. Place the herbs on a cooling rack in the oven to allow for ventilation all round. If your oven will not remain at or around 100 degrees, you may need to prop open the door slightly to make sure you only dry and do not cook the herbs.
Note that where possible, air drying is preferable as this method will result in the least loss of flavour and nutrients.
Storing Dried Herbs
Dry herbs can be tied into bunches and strung up out of direct sunlight in your home, where you will have easy access to them when cooking. Simply hang them in bunches upside down, securing them with twine or elastic bands.
The best location for your herbs is somewhere warm and dry, and so the kitchen is not always ideal as the humidity can be high and there are likely to be many temperature fluctuations. Ideally, the bunches of herbs should be hung out of direct sunlight as the sun can cause them to bleach when they are exposed to too much of it. While hanging herbs in your kitchen can mean that they are handy for cooking, do keep herbs away from intense heat sources such as your stove, and far away from the steam from your kettle and sink.
Bunches of herbs hanging in your kitchen or elsewhere in your home will not only allow easy access when cooking but will also add attractive decoration to your interiors and will infuse your home with pleasant fragrances throughout the year.
For longer term storage of dried herbs you can also crumble the dried herbs into small pieces and place them in airtight jars or containers. Herbs stored in this way will last far longer and can find a space in your herb and spice rack. You can reuse the containers that bought herbs or spices can in for this purpose.
It is easy to tell when herbs are fully dry because they will crumble when rubbed between the fingertips, though it is best not to crumble all your herbs until you actually want them. Whole leaves and seeds will better retain their oils than crumbled herbs. That said, it can be useful to make up a few mixes – an Italian herb mix for example – to make it easier and quicker to enjoy your favourite meals. Store dried herbs in sealed jars in a cool place out of direct light.
How Long Will Dried Herbs Last?
In optimal conditions, dried herbs should last for up to one year. However, it is worth noting that while drying herbs can intensify their flavour, herbs will tend to lose potency in their flavour over time. Properly dried herbs will be perfectly safe to enjoy after a longer period, though may not taste their best after a few months. Again, how long dried herbs will last will depend on which drying herbs you have used and the conditions in which they are kept.
Using Dried Herbs
Since dried herbs can often intensify in flavour as they dry, if you are substituting dried herbs for fresh herbs in a recipe you will usually substitute these at a ratio of 1 to 3. The Mediterranean herbs and other herbs that are good for drying will often work just as well in many cooked recipes as fresh herbs of the same type, while on other cases, fresh herbs really will be preferable. Understanding the characteristics of the different culinary herbs will help you to understand how to use each one in your home cooking.
Dried herbs are, of course, useful for a range of culinary applications, but they can also be used in a wide range of herbal remedies which could keep you in top condition and help you to look after your health during cold and flu season.
What is more, in addition to medicinal uses, dried herbs can also be used to create a range of fragrant soaps and other beauty products. You can also enhance your home by making other items, such as pot pourri and herb-scented candles.
Drying herbs can be a useful skill to add to your arsenal and can help you make the most of the herbs that you grow in your polytunnel garden. Check out our other articles and guides to learn more about growing various different herbs where you live, and let us know how you get on, or share any hints or suggestions you may have, in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.