Preserving herbs

Dehydrate herbs to preserve up to one year.

If you’ve been to the farmers markets, you’ve noticed that fresh herbs are available. If you’ve ever thought about buying fresh, now is the time to do so! Don’t worry about buying too much – Michigan State University Extension offers programs and information on how to dry them for use throughout the year.

Dehydrating is one of the oldest methods of preserving food, and is especially easy to do with herbs. Bacteria need moisture to grow, and when herbs are dehydrated, the moisture is eliminated, making them safe for months.

Michigan is too humid to dry herbs outside, but dehydrators, ovens and microwaves are alternatives for you to use.

Dehydrators: If you are using a dehydrator, follow the manufacturer’s directions. If purchasing a dehydrator, make sure it has a fan and vents to create airflow. That helps the drying process. It also needs a heating source. Stack the trays as high as needed, checking for color and dryness as herbs dry quickly, often less than one hour

Ovens: If you have a convection oven, you’re already in business; a regular oven doesn’t have a fan and is a bit slower; it needs to have the door left open to create air flow. To use your oven, make sure it can get as low as 140 degrees Fahrenheit – otherwise the herbs will cook if the temperature is higher than that. Place cleaned herbs on a tray in your preheated oven, leaving the oven door open. The tray should have room around it so it doesn’t touch another tray or the side of the oven. Air circulation is needed. You can also place a fan outside the oven door to create more of a draft. Check your oven thermometer throughout the drying process to make sure your oven stays at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Adjust the temperature as needed. It doesn’t take long for herbs to dry. Keep your eye on the color and feel the herb if necessary to gauge the dryness. The herbs should feel dry and brittle.

Microwaves: Herbs are the only products that can be dried in a microwave, in small amounts, as there isn’t airflow. Follow the manufacturer recommendations.

MSU Extension recommends that when finished drying, cool completely and package into jars or moisture-proof containers with tight fitting lids. Label with the product name and date of processing. Many herbs look the same after drying and will need a label to identify the herb and the date so that you use the oldest first. Keep your herbs in a cool, dark place for up to one year. If you want to store longer than one year, you can freeze the container. Check occasionally to make sure moisture hasn’t found its way in to the package.

MSU Extension offers home food preservation classes online and in-person. Check http://web2.msue.msu.edu/events/ for classes in your area.

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