Whether you gather, grow, or order your herbs, once they have been dried you need a way to store them properly. Protecting your herbs’ medicinal value and extending their longevity can be as simple as taking a few easy steps to protect them from light and moisture. That will be next week's post, though...
Useful Knowledge to Have
If your herbs are bought dried and in bulk, you can simply wait for next Friday’s post on storing them. However, this is information that could come in handy for everyone. If at anytime you find yourself wanting to save money or unable to afford much, being able to identify and process wild medicinal are a valuable skill to have. Continue reading if you want to be more self-sufficient in this area.
Prior to storing your herbs, you will want to dry them first. After gathering them, let them lay out for a short while to allow for any bugs to escape. When dealing with herbs after they have been gathered, always be sure not to put them in direct light. After all the little friends are gone you can choose how you will process them.
Even though I said it already I will say it once more: anytime you are processing or storing herbs keep them out of direct light. Sunlight is your enemy when you are trying to retain your herbs medicinal value, it drains them of color and affects their flavor.
Note: Also, be sure to harvest your herbs at the earliest time of day possible. Herbs contain a higher content of volatile oil in the morning and lose them throughout the day.
This method, of all the methods, is the oldest one traditionally used. Herbalists, apothecaries, and people using herbs for culinary purposes would hang the plants throughout their kitchen and home. At the very least, the herbs would be strung up in bunches and hung from the ceiling in a well-ventilated room. This method is still used today; however, many add one more step to it for ease and additional protection for the quality: brown paper bags.
When hanging your herbs be sure to pick a well-ventilated area that is out of direct light. While it may look dreamy to have herbs hanging by the window in a cottage kitchen, they would be better placed away from any window. (Trust me, Instagram’s opinion isn’t that important.) Take a small bunch of herbs, place a brown paper bag over them, and then proceed to tie it closed with a small rubber band. Once you have finished covering them, then string them up somewhere to hang while they dry.
The brown paper bag is important here because as they dry and crumble they will fall directly into the bag, making it easier to store. Also, the bag keeps spider webs and dust off of the plants.
If you have a drying rack that you would prefer to use, then that is perfectly acceptable as well. Because I’m a DIY kind of gal that likes to save money, I’d use the hanging method or fashion my own type of drying rack. The most important aspect is that you have something the plants can lay or hang from in a well-ventilated area.
If laying across, make sure that the holes are small enough to stop the herbs from falling. Separate the herbs apart and place each stem and flower where they are not touching. Overtime, the plants will shrink slightly and give way to more space, allowing you to add more plants that you may have.
When it comes to medicinal value, both last methods would not be considered the very best. They will work in drying the plants, however, and are perfectly fine to use for culinary purposes.
For drying herbs using the oven method, you’ll want to place the plants spread out evenly on a cookie sheet or oven-safe tray. Put your oven at a low setting, my oven’s lowest setting is “warm” at just under 200 degrees Fahrenheit. It’ll take a few hours until they are fully dried out and crumbled between your fingers.
Using a Dehydrator
Finally, the dehydrator method is another way to dry your herbs.
I mainly use my dehydrator for fruit. It was given to me by a Facebook friend (thanks Jess!) and I’ve been fortunate enough to be successful so far. I could use it for herbs, but my favorite method for drying herbs will always be the hanging method.
If your herbs are still damp, dry them off as best as you can. Have the dehydrator on (mind doesn’t have a temperature gage – it’s all or nothing, baby!) and place the tougher herbs at the bottom. If your dehydrator does have a thermostat, set it to around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep an eye on the progress, the higher the moisture content or thickness of herb may prolong the drying process. You’ll know they’re done when they crumble.
Give It a Try!
How do you prefer to dry your herbs?
If you have wanted to start gathering herbs but haven't done it yet, I suggested going ahead and giving it a try. Identify what herbs grow in your own area and start building your own apothecary. Gather responsibly and be sure to always safely confirm the plant’s identity first! Be sure to stay away from heavily trafficked area where there may be sprays or heavy pollution that could affect the plant's medicinal value.
If you are wondering where to start, try my other blog posts. Here are a few posts on herbs in season and ones to come:
For other herbal recipes, tips and tricks peruse my blog for more.
Have a fantastic 4th of July, y'all!
Author: Tina Potter
Master Herbalist, I've graduated as an American Healthcare College Alumnus, I've become a member of American Herbalist Guild and author of survivalist series Survival Ember co-authored by professional survivalist Kenny Dietrich of Ashland, KY. I've been beyond blessed with the constant desire to learn and teach.
COMMON SENSE NOTICE: I do not claim to diagnose, treat, or cure disease. What you do with the information I post is up to you, but it is advised to consult with a doctor before acting on alternative methods of medicine. I wish you all the best!