How to dry catnip, oregano, basil, and other leafy herbs

Want to grow and dry your own herbs? Have you tried it and wound up with a moldy mess? Don’t worry – it’s easy and takes less than 5 minutes to dry herbs in your own home, with tools you already own!

Because we regularly harvest plant material from our native prairie, we have a lot of experience drying plants. To gather seeds, our plants often hang in bunches until they dry and fall. To salvage the greenery, this requires adequate ventilation, the right weather conditions, and a lot of time. It often results in mold. Perhaps this is the way you’ve tried drying herbs?

This form of drying often results in mold, but can be done if you have space and the right temperature/weather conditions.

You can also use drying racks (we use old window screens) and leave the plant material out in the sun. This works great – if there’s no rain. We do it often for products we will use quickly.

Plantain drying on screens in the sun

Of course you can use a food dehydrator or your oven (set to low.) These methods take hours and we have often found mold after a short period of storage. Why? Some of it is our own fault. If you store a dehydrated item when it’s still warm, condensation will form and cause mold. If you allow the food to cool in the open, it may reabsorb water from the air and it will mold. Plastic bags also let in air, so storing in bags also results in mold.

Sometimes, we pull the item from the dehydrator and it looks done, but it really wasn’t. And using a dehydrator (or the oven) takes hours. It’s easy to walk away and forget or get fed up with waiting.

There’s a better way!

What is the best way to dry herbs? Your microwave! We use these “fancy” silicone herb drying trays because they provide great ventilation, but you can also use a paper towel for smaller quantities.

Almost any leafy green dries perfectly in the microwave. How do you do it?

  • Load your herbs onto a paper towel. Either place on the drying trays or directly into the microwave.
  • Cover with a paper towel.
  • Microwave for 2 1/2 minutes.
  • Lift the top towel and take a peek. If herbs are not crispy, microwave for 30 seconds
  • Check again and microwave in 10-30 second increments.
  • Herbs are done when they are crisp and dry

Depending on the herb thickness and quantity you are trying to dry it can take anywhere from 3-6 minutes.

Catnip dried in the microwave

We routinely dry catnip, red raspberry leaves, lemon balm, echinacea, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, chives, borage, sage, and lovage in our microwave. It works great every time, for all leafy herbs. It does not, however, work great for mushrooms. The microwave cooks and burns mushrooms – they are best dried in the sun or dehydrator. **Just a friendly warning since we made this mistake.**

Why should you do this at all? Because herbs are easy and fun to grow! And drying your own organic herbs can save you money, time, and toxin exposure. Did we mention it’s fun?

We grow plenty of herbs on our farm – in small bunches. Every summer we gather handfuls of them and dry them to last until the next summer. We have 4 cats, and they appreciate having a steady supply of organic catnip.

One of our cats enjoying home dried catnip

On another note, most herbs are extremely good pollinator plants and very easy to grow from seeds. Most are perennial too, so you only need to plant them once. And if they can survive in our cold, dry climate (the sand plains of Minnesota….sounds scary, right?) then they can grow almost anywhere.

Looking for another great way to store herbs? Some herbs, like chives or lovage respond well to chopping and freezing. They take up little space and it’s a very nice way to save them. Don’t be afraid to store you extra greens this way too – spinach, swiss chard, bok choy and even cabbage can store for a few months in the freezer. They do not reconstitute well for raw eating, so use them in stews, stir fry, soups, and casseroles.

Other herbs store well chopped up and stored in water or olive oil – in silicone ice cube trays, then frozen. Basil, garlic, cilantro, tomato paste, and onions are great this way.

Once you get started, you will find more and more things to dry and store. You will greatly expand your palate and your cooking skills. Have fun with it!

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