When the fall days start to cross over from “refreshing” to “chilly,” it’s time to snip down your outdoor herbs and give them a happy hereafter! Herb-hanging is a delightful pastime, and one that doesn’t require much in the way of equipment — you just need some string and a high place for suspending your herbs. Once they’ve completely dried, you can just run your fingers down the length of each stem to pull off the leaves. I like to save my spice and herb jars and refill them with my own stash. Talk about a fragrant and fun way to save money!
In case you have some herbs of your own to dry, I’ve broken the process down into a few simple steps:
1. First note that a few herbs don’t dry well, at least not with the hanging method: chives tend to turn into yellow hay, while basil simply blackens. Cilantro and dill are also tough to dry by hanging. The good news is that chives, basil, cilantro, and dill all freeze beautifully. Just rinse and dry them well and then pop them into small freezable bags/containers. I like to freeze mine in 1/4-cup amounts.
2. Pretty much all other herbs are imminently freezable: oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage, mint, lemon verbena, stevia, marjoram, winter savory and sweet savory, lavender, even chamomile flowers. I’ve dried all of those in the past.
3. Snip off your herbs just above the base. It’s okay if the bottom-most leaves are yellowed; you’ll need a “tying-part-only” section on the bottom to tie your string, anyway. Rinse herbs VERY well by repeatedly but gently plunging them into a big bowl of cold water. Change the water with each herb.
4. Dry herbs VERY well by patting them gently but thoroughly with a towel/paper toweling. Discard any debris or tattered/yellowed leaves.
5. Scope out some good hanging spots. I like to hang my herbs off of my curtain rods — they’re high up, they aren’t disturbed, and many have heat vents below them. The rising heat helps dry out the herbs faster. Don’t hang them anywhere damp, dusty, or where the herbs might be disturbed by motion or by a pet or a person.
6. Bunch the cleaned herbs together — don’t mix different herbs in the same bunch — and tie a loop of string tightly around the base of each bunch. Be sure to tie a TIGHT knot since the herbs will shrivel as they dry out. A not-tight knot when the herbs are fresh will be a loose knot as they dry out, and the herbs might fall on the floor. Not good.
7. Hang each bunch off of your chosen locations. Another good reason for using curtain rods is that then you can decorate your home with herbs! If you hang more than one bunch on the same spot, stagger them so that they’re hanging above and below each other rather than next to each other. The less crowded they are, the more quickly and evenly they’ll dry out. In the photo, I staggered thyme and lemon verbena.
8. After two weeks, start checking the dryness of the herbs. The small-leaved varieties like thyme and marjoram will most likely be nice and dry, whereas sage can take up to a month. Rosemary is in between.
9. When an herb feels bone-dry to the touch, carefully take it down. Place a length of wax paper on a counter or table top and hold the herb bunch over it. Pinch each stem and run your fingers down it to dislodge the leaves and knock them onto the wax paper. Discard the stems.
10. Have an empty spice jar ready. (Try to match the jar’s former occupants to its future occupant. Many spices leave a strong fragrance behind — think cumin and chili powder — and that smell could interfere with the flavor of your dried herbs. I usually use the same jar for the same herb from year to year to avoid that problem.) Carefully pull up the sides of the wax paper to form a tunnel and then tip the herbs into the waiting jar. Feel free to use a knife tip or clean finger to push down on the herbs so that you can really pack your jar full. And be sure to label the jar!
That’s it! A small amount of effort will save you a lot of money, plus your home will be filled with pleasant herbal scents while they dry. My favorite herb to jar is rosemary — even though it’s a little sticky when you pinch off the leaves, your hands will keep their lovely rosemary scent even after washing.