How to dry herbs

Dried herbs make great tea, but they can also be used in cooking and crafts. In the case of catnip, they’re also handy treats for the kitties.

Step One: Harvest
Different plants have different harvest times. Generally, it’s best to harvest most herbs before they flower, so you can encourage more growth, but in others, it doesn’t matter as much. This is because some herbs reproduce through flowers, while others spread by sending runners out.

Once the ones that use seeds flower, the plant’s energy goes into turning those flowers into seeds after pollination. Once they go to seed, the plant’s goal of reproducing is achieved, and leaf growth diminishes.

Many mints, however, reproduce by ending runners out, so it’s not as imperative to catch them before they flower. Cat mint, or catnip, is a notable exception to that general rule, but it grows so vigorously that you’ll find new plants right up until the snow flies.

I went out this weekend to harvest my mints, Russian sage and catnip.

Step Two: Wash
I don’t put anything on my plants to repel pests or fertilize mid season, because I’m lazy, but that doesn’t mean I can skip this step. Since the plants are outside, they can still accumulate bugs, animal droppings and general dirt.

If you have a garden hose, you can hose them off right after harvesting them. Another alternative is the harvest right after watering or rainfall. Once they’re rinsed off, lay them flat somewhere to let the extra water evaporate.

dried peppermint and catnip still on the stalks
Peppermint and catnip after drying for a couple of days.

Step Three: Prepare for Drying
There are two different ways people generally dry herbs: laying flat or hanging in bundles.

After I rinsed my herbs off, I let them sit out for a couple of days. While that wasn’t enough time for the mints to dry, my Russian Sage was dry and crackly when I got to it.

Dried, pale green, Russian sage leaves resting on the palm of a hand

Since the leaves were so sparse, it was just quicker to dry. Thicker foliage, though, is better bunched and hung up.

I do this by carefully gathering the branches, and grouping them so the cut ends are all on top.

A woman's hand holding a bundle of dried mint

Then, I loosely tie them with some spare yarn and find a place to hang them for however long it takes. Usually, they dry within a few weeks to a month.

Step Four: Hang Them Out to Dry
While I’m a fan of hanging herbs out in the sunshine, that’s not possible in my current living situation. We have three cats who love catnip and anything they can swat at. Our windows aren’t very big, either. Instead, I use a closet that I can leave open for a while to allow for air circulation.

In my experience, the key to drying herbs without rot is a combination of making sure they’re clean shortly after harvest, letting extra moisture dry before bunching and hanging them in an area with decent air circulation.

Step Five: Processing and Storage
Once they’re dry, it’s time to remove the leaves from the stems. Glass is ideal for long term storage, but in a pinch, or if you’ll be using them soon, plastic bags can work.

Regardless of the receptacle, I like labeling what they are, and the month/year I’d dried them.

Since I didn’t get much sage, this year, I’m keeping it in a small bag until I can use it in potpourri or try turning it into incense. I haven’t decided which, yet.

Removing the leaves is pretty easy. As you go, discard leaves that look too brown, and maybe share kitty nip with local felines.

Three cats, two black and one tabby, on a blue & white tiled floor, eating crushed catnip.

Like with essential oils, keep dried herbs in cool, dry places in order to preserve their freshness for as long as possible.

Lastly, enjoy your herbs until spring comes again!

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