Tips for Air Drying and Storing Culinary and Medicinal Herbs

Approx Reading Time: 6 minutes

I grow an abundance of culinary and medicinal herbs on our little homestead. After years of experimenting, Jonathan designed the perfect simple dryer where I can easily air dry my herbs.

Why air dry herbs? The air-drying method allows herbs to slowly dry, maintaining the highest level of flavor and essential oils. It is also the least expensive and simplest way to preserve fresh herbs.

In this post, I’ll share a few tips for air drying herbs and how to best store them to maintain optimal flavor and nutrition. I’ll also show you how to build the custom air dryer that I use to dry my culinary and medicinal herbs.

How to Air Dry Herbs

Air drying herbs is as easy as it sounds. It is just a matter of allowing the herbs time to dry in an area that is protected from sunlight that has plenty of airflow.

Harvest Herbs in the Morning

Most herbs are at their peak in the morning as soon as the dew has dried. Organically grown herbs do not necessarily need to be washed before drying. Washing impacts the amount of essential oils in the leaves.

If necessary, gently wash the herbs in cool water and dry in a salad spinner. Handle the herbs gently as you prepare them for drying.

Dry Herbs Completely to Prevent Spoilage

The herbs are completely dry when they are crunchy when crushed. If they are not completely dry, the herbs will spoil quickly and you may have issues with mold.

Methods for Air Drying Herbs

Air drying herbs will result in the most aromatic and highest quality product. I have been experimenting with different ways to air dry herbs for years.

Due to the volume of herbs that I dry each year, convenience a huge consideration. These are some of the tried-and-true methods that you can use to successfully air dry both medicinal and culinary herbs.

  • Air dry herbs in a mesh laundry bag outside hung under the protection of the porch.
  • Air dry herbs in a parked car with the window cracked for air circulation.
  • Air dry herbs on the countertop on top of a cooling rack with a baking sheet underneath.
  • Air dry herbs by tying them in a bunch and hanging them from a shelving unit or hook.
  • Air dry herbs in my custom herb dryer.

I still like to hang some herbs to dry, but many herbs just work better in this little wooden dryer rack that Jonathan built for me. It dries a huge amount of herbs at once, allows plenty of airflow, and is fairly compact. We’ll show you how to build it below.

How Long Will Dry Herbs Store?

Ideally, dried herbs maintain the original quality for a couple of years if stored correctly. Herbs and spices don’t actually “go bad.” The actual shelf life is determined by the container and storage conditions.

As herbs and spices age, the flavor and aroma gradually diminish. The color may also fade over time. The best way to determine if the herb is still fresh is by smell.

Generally, whole seeds store longer than crushed or powdered herbs. Shelf life will vary depending on the individual herb. I have used spices and herbs that were 10 years old with good results. The optimal flavor and quality generally occur within the first couple of years.

These are general recommendations for dried herb storage. I have had success storing herbs longer than the chart indicates, but this is good for a general conservative guideline.

  • Whole spices: 4 years
  • Dried whole herbs: 2-3 years
  • Dried herb leaves: 2-3 years
  • Dried herb flowers: 2 years
  • Herb seeds (dill seed, coriander): 4 years
  • Dried whole roots (ginger, turmeric, mallow, Echinacea): 3 years
  • Ground spices and herb leaves: 2-3 years
  • Ground roots: 2-3 years

What is the Best Way to Store Dried Herbs?

Dried herbs should be stored in a cool, dry, dark location in a tightly sealed container. The cooler the temperature the longer the herbs will maintain quality. Avoid refrigeration or freezing due to moisture issues. A tightly sealed container will prevent exposure to air and keep the original flavor longer.  

I like to place dry herbs in canning jars and vacuum seal them to extend the shelf life. If you are using a repurposed jar, simply place an oxygen absorber in the jar. A 300 cc oxygen absorber will work for anything one gallon or smaller.

Build a Custom Herb Air Dryer

We used dehydrator trays from a broken dehydrator and designed the frame to fit those trays. I’ve used this dryer for 3 years and absolutely love it. It allows plenty of airflow in and around the herbs and I get great results in just a couple of days.

Not all herbs, including roots, plantain, and some flowers, are good candidates for hanging to air dry. They all work well placed on these trays. For tiny herbs such as this chopped Echinacea root, I place the herbs on top of a paper towel or baking sheet.

Air Dryer Design

The design is incredibly simple. It requires only a few 2×4 studs, fir strips, and screws. The air dryer was designed to accommodate dehydrator trays that we already owned. Jonathan created a simple 2×4 frame and used fir strips to accommodate the trays. He reinforced the base with an additional 2×4 for structural support.

It is pretty straightforward design. Just build it to the right dimensions for the size dehydrator trays that you want to use in it.

Protective Screen

I sewed a dark screen covering for the air dryer out of repurposed screen material. The screen protects the drying herbs from insects.

The screen I made works well but it slips over the top. If I were going to make this again, I think I would make it with a Velcro flap on the front for better access without having to remove the entire cover.

Wheels for Mobility

It would be a good idea to add wheels to the bottom of this dryer. It is small enough to be portable, but I think it would be easier to manage if it had wheels.

Infrared Solar Dryer

I dry a few of my herbs in our infrared solar dryer. It achieves higher temperatures (up to 170° degrees F), so I only dry the hardier herbs (like chives) it in. This is a fantastic design for dehydrating fruits and vegetables using only the energy of the sun.

Learn how to build it in our post, Non-Electric Dehydrator – How to Build an Infrared Solar Dryer.

Self-Reliance Begins at Home

Our goal is to increase our ability to be self-reliant regardless of the challenges in our future. One of the ways that we accomplish this is by growing much of our own food and medicine. This air dryer allows me to conveniently preserve medicinal and culinary herbs without the use of electricity.

This dryer was simple to construct and took advantage of resources that we had on hand. You can change up this design and make it even better. It really is a handy way to preserve the harvest.

Thanks for being part of the solution!

Jonathan and Kylene Jones

Kylene

Kylene Jones is a blogger, content creator, published author, motivational speaker, homesteader, prepper, mother, and grandmother. She practices self-reliance, provident living, and emergency preparedness in her everyday life. She loves working with her husband, Jonathan, and is committed to helping our community be prepared to thrive during the challenges that lie in our future.