Using a food dehydrator for herbs is an excellent way to dry rosemary, basil, thyme, and any other herb you like to use in recipes. Plus, by drying herbs with a food dehydrator at home, you’ll be saving money on spice purchases (not to mention, you’ll be getting the freshest dry herbs available!).
Let’s get started!
How does a Dehydrator Work?
A food dehydrator is a kitchen appliance that’s used for drying food. But, it can be used for many other unconventional purposes - such as drying flowers or craft paper.
However, the main purpose of a food dehydrator is to dry out food and herbs as a method of preservation. Often, food dehydrators are used for drying fruits, vegetables, and meat jerky for healthier snacking. By removing the desired amount of moisture, you can create the exact texture and flavor you’re looking for in dehydrated snacks and food.
Dehydrators operate by use of a heating element, air vents, a fan, and one to several food trays. The heating element, fan and vents work together by circulating air and removing moisture. The fan pushes excess moisture to the vents, where it is released outside of the dehydrator. Some food dehydrators circulate vertically, and some horizontally. Either way, they get the job done!
How to Dry Fresh Herbs
Food dehydrators can be used to dry nearly all types of herbs, but they work especially well for dehydrating basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, tarragon, various mint leaves, and lemon balm. All of these herbs have a high moisture content, causing them to mold quickly if they are not dehydrated within a short time period.
If you didn’t already know - herbs are best harvested right before the first flowers open, right when the buds are full. Follow these steps for drying herbs with a food dehydrator:
1. Harvest the Herbs
Go ahead and harvest the herbs when they are at their peak (see above description). Gather them in the morning, right after the dew has evaporated. Be sure to rinse the herbs in cool water and shake dry. This is important to get rid of excess dirt and germs. Do not rub the herbs dry, it will bruise the leaves. Discard any leaves with deformities or dark spots. Also, remove any long stems or damaged bits.
2. Place the Herbs in a Food Dehydrator
Once you’ve prepared the herbs, place all the leaves in a single layer on a food dehydrator tray. The leaves will try more evenly if they do not overlap. Depending on what dehydrator machine you are using, it may help to cover the trays with a fine screen to prevent any herbs from falling down into the bottom collection space of the machine.
3. Allow Space Between Trays for Good Airflow
If you have some larger leaved herbs to dry, consider removing a tray above the tray you’re drying those leaves on. This allows all the leaves to receive plenty of air circulation - essential for even dehydrated herbs. Feel free to remove any unnecessary trays or shelves.
4. Dry at a Lower Temperature for Longer Periods of Time
If you want the most flavor out of your fresh dry herbs, you’ll want to set the food dehydrator at a lower temperature for a longer period of time, versus turning the heat up to rush the process. Remember: Dry herbs on the lowest setting possible. If your specific dehydrator does not have a thermostat option, just use the shortest period of drying time possible and check on your herbs often. We suggest a temperature of 95 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. However, if you live in a climate of high humidity, you may need to set the temperature at around 125 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal dehydrating.
5. How to Store Dehydrated Herbs
Whenever possible, it’s a best practice to store dried herbs as whole leaves. By doing so, you preserve the majority of the herbs flavor and aroma. Simply crush the leaves into whatever dish you are making, once ready to use them. One exception? When you are dehydrating herbs for tea. In said cases, the herbs will need to be well blended for use in teas - if this is what you’ll be using your dry herbs for, go ahead and crush the whole leaves immediately after dehydrating them.
Tip: Always store fresh dried herbs in an airtight container, in a cool and dry area. It’s preferable to have the area be dark, thus, a brightly lit room isn’t ideal. Any additional light or warmth leads to faster deterioration of your herbs. Taking that into consideration, it’s best to avoid the urge to display dried herbs out in the open on, say, the kitchen countertop. Another point to mention - it’s a good idea to use your freshly dried herbs within a 6 month period for optimal flavor and aroma.
Now that you know how to dry rosemary, thyme, basil, and all the other herbs you love, making homemade meals are more fun! Gardening herbs is a great hobby, that pays off in a major way when it comes to cooking. So, go out there and get started!