As you probably know, I prefer to grow my herbs whenever possible.
This is because homegrown herbs are fresher and more potent than ones that have to be shipped from across the country.
If you also love growing your own herbs, you likely need to know how to harvest herbs for drying and I’m going to tell you how!
Why I Love Herbs
While I always focus on a healthy diet before going to herbs for ailments at home, I do love my medicinal herbs!
Herbs are full of nutrients and have many properties that make them helpful for everyday health issues.
Check out the benefits of two of my favorite herbs:
Also, herbs are a great addition to the homestead kitchen.
Whether it’s spicing up a boring dish or adding variety to the nutrient content, herbs are one of my favorite things to always have on hand in the pantry.
When to Harvest Your Herbs
Herbs need to be harvested when the oils they contain (the part that gives the herbs their medicinal properties as well as flavor and aroma) are at their highest in the plant.
It’s best to harvest herbs in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before it gets too hot. However, you can also harvest at dusk if needed.
Harvest foliage herbs when they are at least 6 inches tall but before they begin to flower. To prolong the harvest, snip off flowers before they bloom.
Harvest flowers when the plant has begun to bloom but before they have opened fully.
Harvest seeds after they have become dry, crushable, and turning brown.
How to Harvest Herbs for Drying (or to use Fresh)
The best way to harvest your herbs is to use the ⅓ rule. When harvesting herbs, never take more than ⅓ of the plant when you harvest.
For some annual herbs, you can take more (up to 75 percent) but I like to stick with the ⅓ rule because it’s easy to remember and I think it’s kinder to the ecosystem.
Here is how I recommend harvesting foliage herbs:
- For leafy annual herbs like basil, pinch off individual leaves (don’t pinch off any stem).
- Leafy perennial herbs (oregano, thyme, etc) should be harvested by cutting with garden pruners or snips. Cut low on the stem so you come away with sprigs.
- Longer stemmed herbs (cilantro, parsley, etc) should be cut (with pruners or snips) near the base of the growth.
If you mess up, don’t worry! You probably won’t harm your plant and you’ll know better for next time.
When you’re harvesting flowers with a single bloom, simply snip the flower heads at the base.
For flowers that are comprised of a group of small blooms along a stem (like lavender), snip the stem a few inches above the ground or above the first set of leaves.
I like to leave seeds on the plant to dry. Get a paper bag or other container to put under the plant. As you touch the plant, seeds will start spilling out. If they aren’t dry enough yet they won’t spill out on their own, so wait a few more days.
How to Dry Herbs for Storage
Once you have harvested your herbs, it’s time to prepare them for drying. You need to remove any bugs, dirt, and debris—so many gardeners wash them.
However, some don’t wash herbs so as not to introduce additional moisture (as long as they aren’t visibly dirty). It’s up to you.
If you want to wash your herbs, run them under cool water and then pat dry with a paper towel before using your chosen drying method. Here are the most popular ways to dry herbs:
Air drying herbs is the simplest method but isn’t great for humid locations.
Here’s How to Hang Dry Your Herbs:
- Gather 5-10 sprigs or branches and tie together (any more than that and it will take too long to dry or might mold).
- Place a paper bag over the herbs and secure (be careful not to crush the herbs).
- Hang the herbs by their stems in a well ventilated and warm room.
- Herbs should be dry in 7-10 days (they will be crispy when fully dry).
You can do this with plants that you want to harvest seeds from as well (if you don’t want to dry them on the plant). The seeds will fall into the bag as they dry.
For flower heads or other herbs that can’t be hanged, use a drying screen.
A drying screen is a piece of screen or cheesecloth usually secured in a frame of wood where you can lay herbs and seeds to dry.
The screen helps air circulate and keeps herbs from falling through. Find a simple drying screen tutorial here.
Drying Herbs with a Drying Screen:
- Lay flower heads, herbs, or seeds on the drying screen.
- Ideally, you will cover the herbs with a second drying screen to keep particles off of your herbs.
- Let dry for 7-10 days or until thoroughly dry.
Air drying is a simple way of drying herbs, but for some people, it takes too long. That’s why many people use the oven or other heat source to dry their herbs.
How to Dry Herbs in the Oven
Remove herb leaves from stems if needed. Lay herbs on a baking sheet well spaced out and place in the oven on the lowest temp (ideally under 180 degrees F).
It should take about 2-4 hours to dry herbs using this method but watch carefully so they don’t get over dried or burnt.
Drying Herbs in the Microwave
This is not my favorite way to dry herbs but will work if you need to dry quickly.
Only place fully dry herbs (meaning no water on the leaves) in the microwave for drying since water on the leaves or petals will cook the herb.
Place herbs between paper towels. Microwave on high for 2-3 minutes.
How to Dry Herbs in a Dehydrator
Using a dehydrator to dry your herbs will be different for each dehydrator so always follow the directions of your model. But in general:
- Spread herbs (stems removed) onto the dehydrator trays
- Dry in dehydrator on herb setting for 1-4 hours.
Herbs are dry when they crumble easily.
How to Store Dry Herbs
If you don’t store your dry leaves, flowers, and seeds properly, all of that hard work can be lost. Here’s how to store herbs the right way:
- Make sure they are truly dry. If they aren’t dry, they may mold. If they are crispy and crunchy, they should be fully dry.
- Add herbs to a mason jar or other airtight container. I always store herbs whole because they hold onto their flavor and medicinal properties better when whole. When it’s time to use the herb, then I will crush them if needed.
- Label your jars with the harvest date so you always know how old the herbs are.
- Store in a cool, dark place. A root cellar is a great place, but if you don’t have one, a cool closet or cabinet works. Dark-colored glass can also help filter out light.
I typically store my herbs in glass mason jars or plastic bags if I don’t have a jar. I then keep them in the pantry to keep them in the dark and away from heat.
How Long Do Dried Herbs Last?
Dried herbs have a long shelf life when stored properly. Dried herbs and ground seeds should last at least 1 year (whole seeds can last 3 years).
Harvesting and Drying Homegrown Herbs
I’m always so proud of myself when I start collecting a stash of homegrown herbs.
But I also feel more at ease knowing that I have medicinal herbs on hand if or when my family needs them.
Even culinary herbs have many medicinal properties that can help with everyday ailments and illnesses.
But of course, I also enjoy herbs for their fragrance and taste. What can I say? Herbs are amazing!
Learning to grow, harvest, and dry my own herbs has been a wonderful experience that I get to share with my kids!
Are you excited to start your stash of amazing homegrown herbs?