Herbal Gardening - Drying and Preserving Herbs

Whether they are going to be used in cooking, as medicines, or for their fragrances, herbs must usually be preserved, and drying is the most common method used.

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While herbs are often grown simply for their frangrance or beauty in the garden, many herbs are harvested today for traditional reasons: as medicines, seasonings, aromatics and so forth. Using herbs for these uses requires proper preservation techniques, and the most common means of preserving herbs is by drying.

There are some different traditional methods - bag drying, tray drying, air drying and even a few modern ones, such as microwave drying.


Many herbs have lovely, and often aromatic, flowers, some with seeds which are harvested. For these types, one of the easiest ways to preserve them is simply let the flower dry on a piece of paper, then curl the paper and pour the seeds into a bag. For leaf preservation there are a few extra steps.

Preserving the Leaves

Remove the flowers and roots from the stalk and rinse the remainder, leaving the stems in water to soak for a few hours. This will loosen any soil that simple rinsing wasn't able to wash away. Then put them onto a cotton or paper towel and let them air dry.

Put the plant into a small paper bag, with the (now gone) flower end inside and the stalks protruding an inch or two out of the bag. Tie the bag around the stalks and place upside down...from the plant's point of view, of course. In other words, put the bag on its base, with the stems up. Oil from the stems will move by capillary action into the leaves, where they become saturated with flavor or aroma.

In about a week or two, if the air is moderately dry, the leaves will become brittle and easy to crumble. Avoid breaking them at this stage, just separate them and place them in an airtight jar. When you want to use them, they can be put into potpourri or crumbled for seasoning.


In tray drying, there's no need to keep the stalks, just the leaf stems and leaves. Clean as above and lay them out without overlapping on a tray (hence the name), then put the tray into a dark, well ventilated area. Remove the tray once per day and flip the leaves over to ensure even drying. In a few days, they'll be ready for use.


If you're pressed for time, or just don't want to use the older techniques, you can easily dry herbs in your microwave.

Begin by putting the herbs onto a paper towel or a paper plate. This helps absorption better than use of a microwave-safe plate. Set the oven for medium power and microwave for a couple of minutes. The exact time will vary depending on the type and amount of the herb you are drying, but about 2-3 minutes will be right for most.

Check the degree of dryness by rubbing a test leaf between thumb and forefinger. The leaf should be brittle, crumbling without much pressure. If not, try again in 30 second intervals until you've reached the right dryness for your purposes.

Cautions: At a certain point, you're no longer simply drying the herb. Microwaves operate by agitating water molecules in food, causing the water to heat up and evaporate. Once the moisture is gone, you're no longer drying the plant and may actually be harming your microwave oven. Another point: If the power is too high or the timing too long, you can inadvertently cook the herb. You will probably have to experiment a little until you find the right adjustments for your circumstances.

Herbal Gardening

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Drying and Preserving Herbs - Copyright 2013 by Donovan Baldwin
Page Updated 9:21 AM Monday 4/29/2013