Herbs can be dried and used for medicinal purposes throughout the year. This is done by drying the herb foliage or drying the fruits. These dried substances can then be stored for use as dried herb ingredients right through the year. Not all herbs are suitable for drying - or use after drying. Curly Parsley, Coriander and Chervil being three that impart a totally different flavour once dried.
Before you harvest any herb material for drying, make sure that the correct plant has been identified before you attempt so dry it. If you are in any doubt whatever, then do not use the herb for drying - or any other purposes.
Remember, all wildflowers and plants in the UK are subject to laws relating to their uprooting or picking. NO wild plant may be uprooted without permission. You should not dry herbs collected from the wild without permission. This article is specifically those herbs that have been grown in the garden or purchased from a normal source.
One thing more than any other, determines if the herbs will dry and hold their flavour well. Herbs need to be turgid - that is to say full of moisture before cutting - preferably for a few days. However, ensure that all herb material needed for drying, is dry and not damp from dew or showers before drying.
In the right climatic conditions, herbs can also be hung up to dry.
For drying herbs, use only fresh specimens and in particular healthy growth on the herbs when choosing leaves and stems for drying. With perennial herbs, it is a good idea to cut off the uppermost part of the stem - allowing the herb to then shoot out new shoots and flowers which again can be used at a later date for drying.
Natural drying of herb material is by far the best, and possible with most varieties. This is accomplished by spreading the herbs to be dried onto a sheet or so of clean paper, newspapers can be used as a last resort to dry your herbs! there should be no artificial speeding up of the process such as using hair dryers, which we have seen recommended elsewhere.
Place the paper and herbs in a lightly shaded spot with plenty of ventilation, but no too much direct draught to cause problems. If the herb material is laid flat for drying, then ensure that they are turned over from time to time. Once properly dried, the herbs can then be stored in suitable containers. The containers should be air tight, and preferably not clear glass jars - unless the dried herbs are to be stored in a darkened place. On no account should herbs that have been placed in a container be subject to strong sunlight.
You should always dry herbs with a that have a high level of volatile oils in this manner, otherwise much of their potency can be lost if you dry the herb too quickly.
There are exceptions to this with some herb parts that should be dried by artificial means. For instance, you can dry some roots or fruits by means of heating. As above, this type of drying is not to be used for foliage parts.
The dried herb leaves can be crushed and then stored in airtight containers - not clear glass, for direct light can have a detrimental effect on the qualities of the herb. In any event, dry herbs can lose their effectiveness after a time, so keep a steady supply of herbs growing for drying purposes. You can dry herbs right through the growing season and on into the dormant period. Herbs harvested in the late autumn or even the winter are not generally suited to drying - Sage, Bay, Oregano and winter savory are the main exceptions
Once you dry your herbs, make sure that the container is CORRECTLY labelled.