If you scan the supermarket shelves for dried herbs, you will notice that some common culinary herbs are missing. That is primarily because herbs such as cilantro and basil lose too much flavor when dried. Many herbs though can be dried successfully.
Drying Herbs from Your Garden
Drying herbs is very easy but if you envisage a country kitchen full of herbs dangling from the ceiling, then you need to revise your thoughts. To retain the flavor of dry herbs you need a cool, dry and preferably dark area rather than a kitchen which tends to be humid and light.
Some of the best herbs to dry are those that have strong flavor such as sage, thyme, oregano and rosemary. Sage, oregano and thyme can all be grown from seed and will survive winters as far north as zone 5. Well drained soil is essential though as root rot is common in both these, and other woody herbs. Rosemary is another woody Mediterranean herb that demands good drainage but is far less cold tolerant than either sage or thyme. It is only hardy to zone 6 at best.
Although rosemary can be grown from seed, it has a low germination rate so buying a plant or two is a preferable way to go. French tarragon also dries well and does not produce viable seed, so you will always need to buy plants for this herb and as most families will only need a few plants of each herb it is frequently more practical to buy plants for all your herbs rather than grow from seed. Other successful perennial herbs that you can try include mints, lemon balm and, of course, lavender. Cilantro is not successful when dried, but the seed from the plant is coriander which stores very well and can be used in curries as well as coarsely ground onto salads.
Steps Involved in Drying Herbs
Wait until the herbs are at their most flavorful before you dry them. This is generally just around the time they flower, but before they go to seed. To harvest the herbs, choose a day that is warm and dry, and wait until the dew has evaporated before picking. Gather the herbs singly and tie several stems together with string or an elastic band. Remember that fleshy stems, such as lemon balm will shrink as they dry, so an elastic tie is better for these herbs. Hang the herb packets in a warm and dry place that has some natural ventilation. Traditionally this was an attic, but a closet will work as well.
If you choose to dry the herbs in the microwave you will need to use a low power. Lay the leaves or stems in a single layer on paper towel and place in the microwave. Start by cooking for just 15 seconds or so until they are dry. Drying too quickly or for too long will destroy the flavor.
Store all your dried herbs in a dark cabinet in glass or plastic containers, and remember that when you use the herbs in a recipe that calls for fresh herbs you will use approximately 1/3 the amount of dried herb.