I simply couldn’t imagine life without my herb garden. The abundance this small 4 x 10 foot raised bed lavishes upon me during the warm months is truly astonishing. Not surprisingly, I try to extend the season to the maximum. Every fall I collect fresh herbs to air-dry. I make little bundles of each herb and hang them upside-down, tying each bundle to a hanger. I place the hangers in the guest bedroom, open all the windows and let the dry fall air do its magic. Within a couple of weeks the herbs are ready to use.
It might seem like a very old-fashioned thing to do, but the aroma of air-dried herbs is unsurpassed. And of course the pleasure of using your very own herbs in your recipes makes every effort worthwhile — to me, at least.
Not every herb is suitable for drying, though. Many herbs do not retain their original flavor and spunk once dried. As a rule, annual herbs (parsley, cilantro, basil…) are not suited for air-drying. Perennial herbs (rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, winter savory, mint…), with their thicker leaves, are better candidates.
Of course, my dried herb collection wouldn’t be complete without the glorious herbes de Provence. Every time I open my little jar of herbes de Provence I am transported to the sunny, colorful hills of this magnificent land — intoxicating and totally delicious.
Traditionally, the mix of Provençal herbs that make up the famous blend is thyme, oregano, savory and marjoram. Since I am partial to other Provençal herbs, though, my blend is a bit different… (Of course you can make your own blend as well. It’s all the more fun!)
Following are the directions for making Herbes de Provence, as well as some ideas for drying other herbs you may have growing in your garden.
Picking the herbs
The best time of the day to pick herbs is either early morning or dusk. Harvesting mid-day, especially on sunny days, is not a good idea — the herbs wilt and are a bit stressed, and therefore will not have as much fragrance.
Preparing the bundles for drying
Rinse your fresh-picked herbs under cold water, remove all dead or blemished leaves and wrap the herbs in clean, lint-free kitchen towels. Let stand until all the water has been absorbed by the towels. Gather the herbs in small bundles and tie the stems together very tightly, making sure to leave a long piece of string to then tie the bundles to a hanger. Once all your bundles are done, tie them upside-down to the bottom bar of a suit hanger, making sure not to place them too closely to each other so that plenty of air can circulate around each bundle. Place the hangers in a dry, cool, well-ventilated place, away from direct sunlight. The herbs will dry within 1 to 2 weeks depending on the moisture levels in the air (I also like to air-dry hot chili peppers but they might need as much as 4 weeks to dry). The herbs should be completely dry and brittle before you proceed.
Herbes de Provence (my own blend)
Make a bundle of each of the following herbs: rosemary, sage, winter savory, thyme, lemon thyme, oregano and lavender. Rinse, bundle and hang the herbs as described above. Once the herbs are completely dry, crumble the leaves between your fingers or slide your fingers along each stem to dislodge the leaves. Place the lavender blossoms in a separate bowl. Pick out all small twigs and stems that might have ended up in your pile and place all the leaves (except the lavender blossoms) in a medium sieve. With your fingers, gently rub the leaves against the sieve. This will break them evenly as they go through the sieve. Add the lavender blossoms to your herbs. Mix well and place in a glass jar or tin. Store away from light in a cool dry place and use within 4 to 6 months.
Bronze fennel seeds
Bronze fennel is a magnificent herb and a cousin of the culinary fennel we know so well. This perennial herb is not grown for its bulbs, however, but rather for its fragrant foliage and its seeds.
To harvest the fennel blossoms, wait until the seeds are fully developed, but have not turned dark brown yet. They should be a pale-silvery color. Cut the blossoms with 10″ worth of the stems. Rinse, bundle and hang the fennel blossoms as described above. Once completely dry, the seeds will be dark brown and the stems brittle. Pull the seeds off their stems. The smaller seeds will come off easily just by rubbing them between your fingers. The larger seeds, however, will be well attached to their stems and will need to be pulled off. Pick out all small twigs and stems that might have ended up in your pile and place the fennel seeds in a fine sieve. Shake well to remove any dust or small particles. Place the fennel seeds in a glass jar or tin. Store away from light in a cool dry place and use within 4 to 6 months.
Hot peppers dry beautifully and spike up many recipes. They are a staple in my pantry and I use them all year long.
Pick peppers that are fully mature and firm, with at least 1″ of their stems still attached. Rinse, pat dry and tie each pepper stem to a string, not too closely together (see picture above). I do not grow too many of these so I don’t make the traditional clumps. Whatever technique you use, make sure to leave room around each pepper for good airflow. Once the peppers are completely dry and brittle, remove stems and crush the peppers between your fingers. I recommend you wear gloves for this task. Place the pepper flakes in a glass jar or tin. Store away from light in a cool dry place and use within 1 year.
Mint, lemon balm and lemon verbena
These herbs make for the most aromatic infusions and teas all winter long!
Rinse, bundle and hang the herbs as described above. Once the herbs are completely dry, slide your fingers along each stem to dislodge the leaves, or pluck leaves from their stems. Pick out all small twigs and stems that might have ended up in your pile and place the leaves whole in a glass jar or tin. Store away from light in a cool dry place and use within 4 to 6 months.
Inspiring! and then you clearly show us how we can do it too . . . perfect!
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great photos and good clear instructions on drying herbs. thanks
Thank you so much , Jude!
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thanks for a wonderful post and a detailed instructions on how you dry your herbs. i grow my herb gardens at home but we had a very challenging winter. and i can’t for spring to come and plant more herbs.
Wonderful Post; did you know that spices like cinnamon can speed up your metabolism and that herbs like ginseng can balance your “yang” and make your wang go “bang-bang”?
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Thank you very much for posting! I’ve been thinking of planting my own tiny herb garden next year!..
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Nice post – pictures of herbs ..Keep Posting– Tip: Keep your post active- commenting helps it – Ron pictures of herbs
Can you use a dehydrator to dry the herbs instead?
Hi Debra, Yes you can – in fact here’s an article just written about it in the NYT: http://bitten.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/27/the-drying-came/
I always want to preserve the delicate oils in the herbs as much as possible because they are so volatile, hence why I do it the old fashion way, but a dehydrator works well too.
I have started to visit the farm stands and markets here in south Jersey since I retired. There is no one like you down here, so I keep checking your website and newsletter for great recipes and tips. Keep up the good work.
How very wonderful to hear from you!!! Thank you so much for stopping by and writing… I hope you are enjoying your retirement… And If you come up this way to visit the Piermont Farmer’s Market let me know and I’ll try to meet you there. It sure would be good to see you again!
Take very good care and thank you for your encouraging words… I’ll keep up all this work for sure!
This is a great article and resource. Thanks!
What a beautiful post and such amazing photos! I am definitely bookmarking this to make Herbes de Provence. Great post!! 🙂
Viviane.. I am a twitter follower and I adore your blog! .. well first of all thanks for such an inspiring article.. Now the weather in Kuwait is such a suitable weather to start gardening , ( I know.. its over everywhere in the world , yet in desert countries the weather is getting so mild and cool and is so pleasant for planting , as opposed to Hot boiling summers) .. so plan 1 : I’m starting a small balcony garden.. I bought seeds of vegs from my trip to France ( from the Loire Valley),..of sweet carrots and pumpkins.. but now You made me think of planting herbs! why not!!
PLAN B : this will help me with the costs of buying herbs from supermarkets.. they welt and die the second day and loose their freshness..
PLAN C: drying them!! wow what a great idea!! first its a fun activity , second it can be available all year long..
Now viviane , help me with some ideas on how to use those dried herbs.. I read many articles of herb experts saying that cooking with dried herbs gives you a totally different taste than the fresh ones.. so each have its own technique.. any suggestions?
Bashayer! Your comment just totally warmed my heart in more ways than one. First it is enormous fun to get a comment all the way from warm and sunny Kuwait! It makes me feel like the world is not such a big place after all… Second, you ask some very good questions which I will try to answer here.
Planting herb in your garden is something you will not regret. I do not know if you get very cold nights in the cooler months in Kuwait, but perennial herbs grow and grow for years and I think would thrive in your climate.
Planting herbs in pots is fine too, but they like rich soil, so I would recommend you do not use the potting soil that is sold in nurseries, but make your own blend with a mixture of garden soil and compost (which in the US at least you can buy at the nursery too). Also, make sure your pots get 6 to 8 hours of sunshine per day and let the soil dry-out between watering.
I prefer using fresh herbs in cooking at all times. The flavor is simply better. However dried herbs are excellent for rubs, roasting, infusions and also in sauces and stews. It is very important that they get a chance to cook in order to release their flavor. For example I would never use dried herbs in a salad dressing.
You have inspired me to write about a recipe I created with Herbes de Provence. It’s an unusual recipe… So I hope you’ll like it (I don’t want to give it away here just yet! 🙂 ) I will post it on my blog this week.
Last but not least, I looked at your own blog and must say it is beautiful and inspirational… You made me want to get on a plane immediately and rent a gorgeous house in Provence… Ah… I’m still dreaming! And it looks like you had loads of fun at your Le Notre cooking class! How wonderful…
Thank you so much for your very thoughtful comment. I am always grateful to hear what people have to say and share.
You are absolutely right. Air-drying herbs preserves their delicate oils and therefore their amazing fragrance. Not so long ago, most people dried their own herbs and in Provence it’s still a tradition that many practice – I just love it!
Thank you so much for your comment…
Thanks for this inspiring post. I’ve read somewhere that air-drying herbs is also preferred because it better retains the oils, which is probably why your herbs are so fragrant!
of course, vivien, i’m just too stupid! haha…thx for the reminder.
I’m so inspired by the beautiful photos, Viviane! Now’s a good season to do this: I’m going to get out and harvest some of those herbs! (I’ll also have to practice saying, “Herbes de Provence”… sounds so classy 🙂
To everyone who has been stopping by and leaving a comment – a million thanks!
I enjoy reading your kind words so much – you make me feel very happy!
Very informative post. I do have some herb pots in the garden and your post is jut perfect. Thanks.
i’ve been feeling anxious about what to do with my beautifully grown rosemary in my backyard!
i dont hv a guest room for it though, i might probably hang them in my garage! hope it doesnt hurt!
Lululu… You made me smile! The garage is not ideal for drying herbs, because there is no airflow… You can hang them in the kitchen, in your living room, in your bedroom… as long as there’s a window open. You can also hand them on a porch outside during the day, but they shouldn’t be in direct sunlight and you can move them back inside for the night.
Thank you so much for your comment and hope you give it a try… 🙂
Wonderful post and your photos are beautiful! I like to dry my herbs in the same way, but have yet to make an herbes de Provence mixture.
wow very informative post! I’ve always wanted to know how to dry out herbs and now I know thanks to you 🙂
oooh! love the pictures and I can almost smell it all :o) I’ll have to try this someday soon… thank you for sharing!
Nice tips.. this articles is very usefull, thanks for sharing.
What a great post! I love my herb garden as well. There is something so comforting and wonderful about having herbs just a couple steps away. Drying them is such a great way to preserve that feeling year round. Beautiful photos and writine!
Thank you so much Rachel & Lili! I hope you both get to dry your herbs before the cold weather sets in… And then enjoy them for the rest of the year… 🙂
This is fantastic- the way you write about the herbs really does take me away. Thank you for doing what you do!