How to dry and preserve herbs for year-round use

Preserving your own herbs ensures they are pesticide free and were harvested within the year. Here, Sheena offers tips and tricks to ensure herbs retains their fragrant oils.

Sheena’s tips to ensure herbs retains their fragrant oils

Dried herbs are a wonderful way to preserve the health benefits and flavours of the summer garden so they can be enjoyed year-round. Preserving your own herbs ensures they are pesticide free and were harvested within the year.

Here are a few tricks that will ensure the herb retains its volatile fragrant oils:

The best time to harvest herbs for drying is when the flower bud is fully developed, just prior to blooming. Choose a week when there is no moisture in the forecast.

Water the herbs well to clean them in the early evening the day before you will be harvesting. This allows them to dry all evening and overnight.

Use clean, sharp, disinfected pruning shears.

Harvest the herbs early in the morning.

Snip the herbs to 5 cm (2 in.) from the ground. This does double duty in the garden, as you’re tidying it up for winter!

Choose a location for your drying rack; this could be a well-ventilated garden shed, covered porch, sheltered north-facing location under an overhang or shaded greenhouse.

A clothes-drying rack works well for drying herbs; a slatted garden gate or large-mesh screen on sawhorses will also do the trick. There should be enough room on all sides of the herb bundles to provide good air circulation.

• Using string, tie the herbs into bundles of approximately 2.5 cm (1 in.). Hang the bundles from the base, placing them a few inches apart to allow for air flow.

Leave the herbs until thoroughly dry – one to three weeks depending on the temperature. Routinely inspect for mould.

• When completely dry, remove the leaves from the stems. Store them whole or chopped in labelled jars, in a dark and cool cupboard or basement storage area. Remember the dried form is twice as strong as the fresh, so adjust your proportions accordingly.

Culinary herbs can be stored individually or in seasoning blends, such as Tuscan, Greek, Thai, pizza, spaghetti and poultry. Herbal teas can also be stored individually or in blends, such as lemon mint or cinnamon basil.