Cara is a web writer and website owner with over 15 years of experience providing information to readers on a number of topics.
If you have a garden and love to preserve your own food, drying some herbs and spices will save you money and will increase the quality and quantity of your culinary herbs you have through the year. Since most of us don’t live in mild climates where we can grow and harvest herbs and spices year-round but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your garden delicacies all year.
Ten Culinary Herbs to Dry from Your Garden
It is important to realize that not all herbs and spices dry well. Some herbs that are very aromatic herbs turn into tasteless dust when they are dried. To save you time, I have prepared a cheat sheet of herbs whose flavor and aroma stay true to nature after the process of drying them. I am also including some helpful tips for successfully harvesting them after you have decided what your favorites are.
Sweet Marjoram (Origanum Majorana)
Sweet marjoram was a favorite of Shakespeare and was something he spoke of frequently. It is a relative of oregano and it is a delicious herb that has a distinct flavor that pairs well with chicken or fish. In many countries, oregano and sweet marjoram are considered interchangeable. Unfortunately, when it is cooked at a high temperature, sweet marjoram easily loses its flavor but if you dry the leaves, they hold that delicious essence for months. You can also find it in cold-hardy varieties, including French marjoram. You can buy a plant or easily start marjoram from seeds or cuttings.
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Mint (Mentha spp.)
There are over a dozen species of mint that you can grow in your garden. The three best mints for culinary use include peppermint (Mentha piperita), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and the less common apple mint (Mentha Suavolens). All these mints dry extremely well and hold their sweet, delicate flavor.
Something I do caution people who want to grow mint is that this plant can take over and easily become an invasive species in your yard. Make sure to confine any mint you plant into a pot or a small, raised bed to prevent it from taking over your garden.
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Thyme (Thymus spp.)
Another herb that has multiple varieties and dries well is Thyme. There are over a hundred variations of thyme available so you can pick your favorite and run with it. Thyme is a small plant that has a relaxing distinctive fragrance. This herb dates back to ancient Egypt where it was used for many things but mainly as an embalming ingredient. Today, it is an essential herb in cooking. It is a great addition to soups, stews, meats, and crockpot dishes. It is one of those comfortable winter dish ingredients so preserving your summer garden yield will ensure you’re eating amazing comfort food all winter long.
Make sure to choose a hardy variation of Thyme because some species are intended to prevent soil erosion and not meant to eat. For example, woolly thyme does not have the flavor necessary to hold up to the drying process but is a great addition to a hill that annual rainfall is attempting to wash away.
Culinary drying favorites include lemon thyme (Thymus Citrodorus) an evergreen that produces small, delicate flowers, caraway thyme (Thymus Herba-Barona) another evergreen variety, and French, English, or common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) which is an essential herb in ‘herbs de Provence’. Thyme can be grown from using cuttings or a purchased plant and it is very hardy and holds up for many years if it is well cared for.
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Lovage (Levisticum Officinale)
Lovage is a culinary herb that commonly grows in Europe. It is known to be a very versatile herb and the leaves, roots, and seeds all have amazing culinary uses, but its popularity has died out over time. The herb gives off a pungent aroma and dried leaves are a great addition to soups, stocks, and stews. People who use it frequently compare it to celery. The perennial and can grow to between 4 to six feet, which adds great heigh to your garden. You can grow Lovage from seed or from an existing plant.
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Oregano (Orignum Vulgare)
Oregano is one of the few herbs that tastes better after it has been dried. Oregano is an herb that most people are familiar with. It is a mainstay of Italian cooking and pairs great with paprika, parsley, and basil. The stems of oregano are easy to harvest, hang, and strip for using in recipes or to dry. Oregano is a very hardy plant and grows pretty much anywhere. Even though it is not as aggressive as mint, it is recommended to keep oregano in a pot to prevent it from taking over your garden bed. Oregano is very easy to grow from seed or an existing plant.
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French Tarragon (Artemisia Dracunculus Var. Sativa)
French tarragon is well known for its flavor that resembles anise. This variation of tarragon is a very popular ingredient in vinegars that have been flavored. It also adds a subtle licorice flavor to salad dressings, meats, and soups. It is important to remember that many people confuse French tarragon with the culinary variety that is less flavorful, Artemisa dracunculus. The only way to propagate French Tarragon is through plant cuttings because true French Tarragon only produces sterile flowers so it cannot be grown from seed.
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Sweet Bay Laurel (Laurus Nobilis)
Sweet bay is the only herb listed that can grow up to 15 feet. Since it is classified as an evergreen tree or shrub it can be pruned into various shapes and sizes for design qualities and makes a great ornamental plant for containers. This herb is very common in Mediterranean cuisine and are frequently used to add earthy flavors for slow cooked meats, pasta dishes, and soups. Because they have a sharp edge, if they are used whole, they are commonly removed from dishes. If the leaves are ground into a fine powder, they are safe to ingest so if you are drying Sweet Bay Laurel, drying them is the best way to go. There are many variations of Sweet Bay Laurel, so you can choose one that looks best in your garden.
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Rosemary (Rosmarinus Officiinalis)
Rosemary was known as the herb of choice for several playwrights, gods, and goddesses throughout history. Not only is Rosemary delicious in a lot of recipes, but it is also a drought-tolerant herb that falls in the perennial category. Rosemary is an excellent culinary herb and makes a beautiful addition to landscaping. If you live in a milder climate rosemary will survive all year. If you live in a colder climate, you will need to harvest and dry the plant for winter usage. The leaves of Rosemary look like a coniferous shrub. It makes an excellent addition to meats, stews, roasted vegetables, and stuffing.
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Coriander and Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Coriander seeds are produced by a plant that has a lot of benefits. It is able to self-seed easily and it is one of the first spring plants to grow. The plant also produces the fresh herb you know as Cilantro, also called Chinese parsley. It has a very strong flavor that is a mainstay in Latin American cooking, especially salsas. You may be surprised to find out that it is one of the few herbs whose flavor is affected by your genetics. Some people carry a gene that makes this herb taste like soap to them. Other people say it tastes like fresh lime.
Fresh cilantro also contains chelation properties, which are helpful in flushing heavy metals out of your body. When you are harvesting your plants, you should do so right after the seed heads start to turn brown. Trim the drying seed heads from the stalk and place them in a brown paper bag until they are fully dried. The seeds should fall right off the plant as they finish drying.
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Sage (Salvia officianalis)
One of the best-known poultry and stuffing seasonings in North America is sage. You can buy sage in a lot of different varieties to suit your taste and your climate. Sage has been dried and used for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times. It is also a great way to feed bees if you leave it to flower.
Sage grows in a lot of different conditions and thrives in pretty much any soil condition. Once it has matured, it is very drought resistant. Purchased plants are quick to reach the point where they can be harvested, but you can also propagate existing plants, start plants from seed, or even start from a cutting by rooting them in damp sand.
Growing herbs is just as easy as growing vegetables, but keep in mind the watering schedule will be different. Make sure to separate your herbs from your vegetables in the garden so you can adjust their watering schedule. It is recommended to keep your herbs in a separate bed or in herb planters designed for growing herbs.
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Tips for Harvesting and Drying Culinary Herbs
When you are ready to harvest and dry your culinary herbs, it is important to use the right timing. Harvesting right after the flower buds have appeared, but before they open, is a perfect time. This is when the best concentration of oils is available, which will provide you with the optimum flavor. If you are unable to wait for your herbs to flower, you can harvest them once they reach their full height.
When to Harvest
Some plants, like oregano and mint, will show flower stalks, which is a sign they are getting ready to bloom. Others like sweet bay, rosemary, lovage, and sage can withstand several harvests, so you don’t have to wait for flower buds. You should always harvest your herbs in the morning right after the dew has dried. This is the time of day the oils are more concentrated, which provides more flavor when they are preserved.
How to Harvest
When you are ready to harvest your herbs, snip off the top 6 inches of the plant. Snip off the flower bud and discard it before drying. If your herbs are clean, you should not wash them because getting them wet after harvesting them can reduce their flavor.
Drying Your Herbs
When you are preparing your herbs for drying, tie the stems into bundles with kitchen string or thin wire. Hang your bundles in a warm dry place where they will not be in the sun because the sun can bleach the herbs and pull out their natural oils. You can prevent dust from getting on your herbs by placing a brown paper bag over each bundle and punching holes in it. Bagging them can also prevent UV damage if you have to dry them in a place that gets occasional sunlight. Make sure to tighten the string frequently because as they dry, the stems will shrink in size.
Other Ways to Dry Herbs
Herbs like Mint are quick to mold so drying them faster may be necessary. You can also dry herbs on window screens, dehydrators, and even in your oven. If you are using these alternative methods of drying herbs, you should ensure that they are laid horizontally on a flat surface and ensure that they do not overlap.
When Are They Ready?
You can easily determine when your herbs are ready to package by feeling them. They are ready when they crumble easily and feel brittle. You can easily remove the leaves from the stem and crush them into the desired texture you are looking for. Make sure to place your dried herbs in airtight containers that contain the date of packaging.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Cara Garrison