Drying Herbs in 5 Simple Steps

As I jammed the plant stems into brown paper bags, I doubted my first attempt at drying herbs would be fruitful. But my daughters’ resolutions to grow their own seasonings this spring were excessively productive. So when late-summer nights ushered in chilly thoughts and earlier evenings, I wanted to do something with the plethora of herbs before Frost made them worthless with her silver-coated, suffocating touch.   

Drying Herbs in a Paper Bag

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I’m not surprised that I hesitated at my endeavors. I often allow feelings of inadequacy to hold me back. But now, three weeks later, the jars of aromatic greenery standing in my cabinet, diligently waiting to be used, bring me satisfactory joy. I even find myself–can I say this without sounding too weird?–sneaking a peek at them every so often, or unscrewing a lid just to let the calming smell permeate my kitchen.

I have most definitely found a new autumn ritual—the process was that effortless. In fact, this may have been the easiest endeavor I’ve tackled since our family started our homesteading journey 5 short seasons ago. (I’ll be honest, even though it is rewarding and gratifying, this homesteading thing is not easy. I’m amazed at how much time everything takes, from the birth cycle of rabbits to the molting cycle of chickens. Raising food from farm to table is a never-ending, tedious process that develops great patience and appreciation for every bite.) But I harvested, dried, cut, and stored 3 jars of herbs in way less time than it would take me to drive to the store and buy them. (I should add a disclaimer that we live 11 miles from the nearest traffic light, so my drive to the store is a little longer than average.)

I spent $2.99 for 3 jars of amazingly aromatic fresh dried herbs. (I bought one pack of seeds and other cuttings were given to me.)

Drying Herbs and labeling with chalk paper

Turning over the rocky New England soil? Not so easy. Figuring out the best day in spring to plant a productive garden in the short New England growing season? Not so easy. Keeping the chicks out of the garden? Not so easy.

Drying Herbs despite the hens

But drying herbs? Piece of cake. 

{{ Drying Herbs in 5 Simple Steps }}

1. Harvest it.

A warm morning is the best time to harvest an herb, when the oils of the plant are in high concentration. But I sat for quite a while by the river, my favorite spot for an early devotion, before I harvested that morning. I wanted to wait until the dew had dried. For maximum flavor, snag your clippings right when tiny buds start to form. But I, being the negligent and first-timer herb dryer that I am, gathered some of the clippings after the herb was in full bloom. Turned out fine for me. The dried herbs were still very aromatic and tasty, plus I had the added bonus of hundreds of tiny black seeds that fell from the blooms as they hang in their drying bags. I’ve labeled and stored away the promise of new herbs until next spring, when we’ll sow more plants.

Drying herbs with blooms

2. Bag it.

After grouping my clippings in small bunches and tying them at their base with twine, I stuffed them into brown paper bags, which I tied closed as well. 

I considered skipping the bag and hanging them from exposed beams in my kitchen, as many others have (long before I) in our little colonial cape that was built on our homestead in 1800. But the desire to have well-dried, dust-free herbs won out over my fleeting nostalgic thought.

I also considered making a small hole in the bottom of the bags and fishing my twine through, hanging the herbs with the bag upside down over top of them. That would have kept the herbs dust-free and somewhat dark. But I chose to stuff them in upright bags and cinch them closed, so the bag could catch any tiny seeds that fell from the diminutive blooms while they dried. 

3. Hang it.

Label each bag. (Trust me, they’ll look much different in three weeks when they’ve all turned crispy, and you might not recognize what’s what.) 

Then find a cool, dry, dark place in your house to hang them. A closet worked well for me.

4. Chop it. 

Check the contents in 2-4 weeks.

Drying herbs

Three of my 4 herbs I had bagged were ready to be chopped and stored. The parsley seemed to be a little “soft,” not so crumbly, so I placed those clippings back in their bag and relegated them to the closet again.

With my oregano and basil, I separated the leaves from the stems. I didn’t chop the stems with the leaves because the stems are slightly bitter. But I’ll toss some in our bee hive oven when we smoke meat next, for added flavor. And, because the stems are woody, they’ll produce an amazing herbaceous scent if I throw some on the fire when my audacious colonial-style baker has soup simmering.

drying herbs for soup over the fire

Once I separated the leaves, I decided to leave the oregano in slightly larger pieces, cut up but not too fine. This way I can crumble them smaller when I’m ready to use them, hoping to add a little extra flavor that way. For the basil, I chose the even faster technique and chopped it in my NurtriBullet. I don’t use basil as often as oregano, so I figured I’d like to just toss it in easily when I do want it. Finally, I left my lemon thyme as whole, small stems to use as garnishes or to crush later when I mix up some homemade mosquito repellent.

Drying Herbs differently

5. Store it.

I didn’t want to spend any money on this effort, so I searched my cabinets for empty glass containers. I did envision Martha-Stewartish matching jars, but I’m a practical kind of girl, not wanting to spend more on my packaging than I did on the plants themselves. Plus, like I said, it’s quite a hike from our homestead to the nearest store. So I made do with mix-matched jars and used double-sided tape to attach chalkboard craft-paper labels.

I do have to drive to civilization every once in a while, but before you pity me for my long, rural drive, I should tell you that turning around windy rolling peaks as they open up to magnificent autumn colors speckling the summits on the blue horizon… well, it’s one heck of a nice way to spend a half an hour if I’m not drying herbs. 

Drying Herbs and enjoying the drive

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it. Proverbs 15:17

If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land. Isaiah 1:19



This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Drenda

    I just hung up some leftover dill from making pickles a few weeks back in a paper bag too to keep off the dust and cobwebs.
    You’ve inspired me to do some more herbs before the frost comes!!!
    I love your mismatch jars, they look as good as Martha’s would!

    1. Michelle

      Oh, definitely, Drenda, hang more bags of herbs! Here in New England, Frost has already shown her full wrath. We worked today on pulling and hoeing our garden, So I was extra thankful for my wonderful basil I added to my chicken gravy tonight for dinner. The kitchen smelled wonderful! And thank you, I have grown to love my jars too, mismatched as they are.

    1. Michelle Visser

      Thank you, Michelle. I do love telling a good story. In fact, I’ve been storytelling for much longer than I’ve been homesteading or drying herbs. 🙂

  2. Sue

    wow- I am going to try this! Going to try to dry dill, basil, and maybe lemon thyme…..

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