Drying & Storing Herbs
Traditionally, most herbs were simply tied in bunches and hung in a warm, dry, shady spot until they crumbled easily. Roots were washed, split, and spread in a single layer on a clean surface. Traditional drying methods are still used today. In fact, some herb shops sell herbs in dried bunches. Traditional drying has two disadvantages. It often requires more room than one has, and it takes time—a few days to a few weeks for many leaves, stems, and flowers, and sometimes many months for barks or roots.
To preserve the volatile oils in many herbs, the faster the drying time, the better. Most commercial herb producers use special equipment for drying herbs. The same process can be done at home by placing herbs on cookie sheet or piece of clean window screen in a 95 degree oven. Or, to keep from turning on the oven in the heat of summer, you could purchase a small dehydrator.
Once dry, most herbs are powdered, reducing them to the form most convenient to use. Traditional herbalists use a mortar and pestle, a method that works well for those who process only small amounts of herbs.
A more modern approach is to use a small coffee grinder (carefully cleaned to remove all traces of coffee). For gardeners who produce large amounts of herbs, larger grinders are available.
For those of you who store their kitchen spices in clear glass jars, light is one of the biggest destroyers of herb flavor and medicinal potency. The other is oxygen.
To best preserve the herbs’ medicinal constituents, store them in amber glass or ceramic container. Fill containers to limit the amount of oxygen they contain. As you use your herbs, Add cotton wadding to the containers to limit the amount of oxygen inside them.
Moisture is another herb killer. If your herbs get wet, re-dry them quickly to prevent the growth of mold.