When it comes down to it, drying and storing herbs for the pantry keep the flavors of summer preserved for the fall and winter months.
As summer winds to a close, gardeners are busily harvesting the last of the bounty. They know that a single frost, let alone a hard freeze, can destroy in a single evening what they had been tending to all season long. Not only could that finish off garden fresh meals, but also reduce the amount of homegrown goodness in the pantry. When it comes down to it, drying and storing herbs for the pantry keep the flavors of summer preserved for the fall and winter months.
Homegrown herbs are a wonderful addition to your pantry. They have so much more flavor compared to those purchased at your local grocery store. Also, the colors are more vibrant and visually appealing.
Helpful Hints for Gathering Herbs
- Harvest throughout the growing season
- Wait until the dew has dried before harvesting herbs
- Do not harvest during the heat of the day
- Do not harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at a time
- If harvesting an herb for its leaves, harvest before the plant has begun to bloom
- Young leaves are more flavorful than older leaves
- Herbs are grown for their seeds (such as dill and fennel) when the seed heads/pods begin to turn color
- Herbs grown for their roots (such as ginseng) can be harvested at the end of summer or early fall
While fresh herbs tend to taste the best, they do not store well. For long-term storage (such as in a pantry) dried herbs are best. See our post 10 Herbs for Every Kitchen Gardens for ideas on which herbs to grow.
A wide variety of herbs can be dried for your pantry. Good candidates include, but not limited to: sage, thyme, dill, rosemary, basil, oregano, tarragon, chives, and parsley. But for best results for your pantry, avoid using an oven or dehydrator for your herbs. Herbs dried in this fashion tend to lose not only color but some of their flavor as well.
Prior to drying, please remove any leaves that are discolored or dead. They will not have good flavor. Instead, opt for gathering your herbs in bundles, tying with string, and hanging in a dark (herb colors can fade in bright lights) and well-ventilated room.
Drying racks or sheets are other good options as long as they allow for good airflow around the herbs. If you live in a home with pets, hang the herbs up and out of reach of inquisitive paws. Places such as a laundry room, infrequently used guest bedroom or bath, or even a closet are good candidates.
If you have a small batch of herbs to try, try using a microwave for quick herb drying. Low wattage dehydrators also work well. Look for them at garage sales and second-hand stores.
Once the herbs are dry (and drying times may vary based on humidity, usually in the two to three-week range), they are ready for storage.
Storing Dried Herbs
After the herbs have dried, they are now ready for containers. Remove dried leaves from the stems, sorting through to remove any that have really discolored during the drying process as well as those that are dusty/dirty.
Dried leaves can be placed into containers for storage. Glass is an excellent choice as it is clear and allows you to see the contents of the jar. A snug fitting lid is then placed on the jar. Label and place the jar of dried herbs in your pantry. Dried herbs whose leaves are left whole can last at least twelve months in the pantry without significant loss of flavor.
NOTE: leaving the leaves whole helps retain flavor.
You may also opt to grind dried leaves into smaller pieces or a powder. This will release essential oils (herbs will be more fragrant), but they will also lose flavor more quickly compared to herbs where the leaves are left whole. If you prefer ground or powdered herbs (such as sage), simply use it sooner. (Recommended to use these herbs within six months).
For all of your dried herbs, remember to label the jars with the contents. Even though you may remember now what is in the jars, you may forget later. (If you break leaves apart into small pieces, it can be hard to distinguish basil from oregano). Or if you send someone else to the pantry, they may select the wrong container unless it is properly labeled.
Benefits of Drying and Storing Herbs
- You control how the plants are grown, fertilized, and if treated with insecticides
- Homegrown herbs are packed full of flavor
- Money is saved compared to buying dried herbs from the store
- Drying and storing herbs provides a sense of satisfaction
- Making homemade remedies is easy when you have your own herbs on hand
If you enjoy flavorful herbs all season long, this is a project for you. Won’t you give drying and storing herbs for the pantry a try? You can do it!