Preserving Herbs for Winter Use

Dehydrators provide a quick and easy way to dry your favorite herbs.

| August/September 2001






My food dehydrator has served as my best friend during many growing and harvesting seasons. It is a valuable tool in preserving herbs for culinary and medicinal use through the late fall and winter months. Some herbs are better fresh or frozen, but for those I dry in quantity, the dehydrator is quick and easy, and takes less space than traditional drying methods.

In general, the quicker an herb is dried at a low temperature, the better the flavor and nutrient value will be. The use of dehydrators is not necessarily superior to other methods of drying herbs, but dehydrating herbs is an easier alternative which provides similar flavor results compared to that of air-dried herbs.

How it works

A dehydrator works by extracting moisture from the leaves. Herbs that have a high water content such as mints, especially applemint and spearmint, take longer to dry. Some dehydrators have temperature guides. Herbs should be dried at about 100°F. At higher temperatures, the essential oils and vitamins break down.

You can spend less than $25 or up to a few hundred dollars, depending on the features of the machine you choose. If you plan to use it a lot, a higher-priced machine may be worth the investment because it will allow you to dry more herbs in less time. The highest-quality machines have a heating element and a fan to circulate air through the trays, providing a more even drying environment and quicker drying time. Lower-priced machines have a heating element but no fan, relying instead on convection (the normal flow of warmer air rising and cooler air sinking) to circulate the air.



Preparing and drying

Dehydrating herbs is quicker and requires less space than hanging herbs to dry or laying them out on screens or racks. Most herbs will dry within four hours and can then be stripped from the stems and stored immediately. With a dehydrator, you can dry as many different types of herbs at one time as you have trays for. The flavors do not mingle during the drying process.

Preparing the herbs for drying is similar to other methods in that you will need to gently wash the plants and pat them dry. Most of the surface moisture should be removed before they are placed in the dehydrator. Small leaves can remain on the stems for drying, then stripped off when you’re ready to store them, but removing large leaves from thick stems will cut the drying time.



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