Quick-drying fresh herbs

June 29, 2009(updated on October 3, 2018)

drying oregano

The house I was born into was a tiny little thing. Built in the early 1900s, it was just shy of 1,000 square feet. However, what it lacked in indoor space, it made up for in an amazing yard. The backyard was particularly roomy, starting with the brick back patio and rising in several tiers up to a two-story garage and back alley. We had several plums trees, as well as a vegetable garden and a long planter overgrown with Italian oregano.

The yard was often more than my parents could handle, especially with two little kids, a dog and a music production/distribution business rapidly expanding in the basement (offices) and garage (shipping department). However, they did what they could to keep nature from totally reclaiming the space, focusing the bulk of their efforts on the garden spaces closest to the house. The oregano was a particularly enthusiastic grower and had to be regularly trimmed (otherwise it would tumble out of it’s planter and take over).

destemmed oregano

Instead of tossing the oregano trimmings onto the compost pile (which was an action that could have been forgiven, given how much oregano was back there), my mom would spread it out on cookie sheets and put them in the oven to dry. The kitchen in that house had an big old white enamel gas stove, with a pancake griddle in between the burners. Left overnight, the heat from the pilot light was enough to gently dry out the oregano. The next day, she’d carefully pull the leaves from the stems and store the dried oregano in airtight containers.

These days, I don’t have a highly productive oregano patch at my disposal. However, I do have a membership in a CSA which includes at least one bundle of fresh herbs each week. And when a recent box contained a rubber-banded bunch of oregano (the scent of which took me flying straight back to childhood) I knew I was destined to dry it.

oregano in canister

In the past, I’ve hung herbs to slowly dry in my kitchen, but often found that in my tiny galley, they get bumped and banged, leaving crunchy bits all over the floor. I also worry that in the course of their hang, they get dusty and splattered with the scents and particles of daily cooking. For all those reasons, I much prefer the quick oven dry.

To do it, you simply spread a bunch of fresh herbs out on a cookie sheet (no need to destem at this point). I put them in the oven, set to the very lowest temperature and leave them for one hour. After the first hour is up, I turn the oven off, but leave the herbs in overnight. The next day, I destem them and pack the now-dried herbs away in jars. If you have a gas stove, you could follow my mom’s method and just use the heat of the pilot light. Sadly, my electric oven precludes that practice.

This method works wonderfully for leafy herbs like oregano, thyme, mint and even basil. Rosemary doesn’t fair as well and dill gets crispy too fast (that’s one that I still hang to dry, I just do it in a closet instead of my kitchen).

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12 thoughts on "Quick-drying fresh herbs"

  • Alton Brown’s box fan + air filter method looks quite interesting, but takes more effort than the overnight oven method. Gonna give this a try.

  • I put fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary, oregano, celery seed head, dill seed head, fennel seed head, coriander etc in a paper bag to protect them from dust and just leave them just about anywhere to dry. Only takes a few days, if the bags get bumped, the leaf just fall in the bag. I don’t heat up my kitchen (which I really dislike doing in summer if I don’t have to, and use neither gas nor electricity. This method does not work for fleshy herbs like basil, but then I don’t dry basil, I pesto it and then jar it/freeze it.

    Granted the oven method would make the whole house smell very nice, wouldn’t it?

  • hi marisa,

    this is great to see this as i am reading this from turkey – here for a friends wedding – and i have discovered that they sprinkle dried oregano on everything – like we do pepper. and it is delicious on things we have never even thought of!

  • Oregano is definitely the bully of my herb bed. Yesterday I harvested my first batch of basil, and now have 3 jars of pesto in the fridge.

  • My new favorite way to dry herbs is in the car. I place them in a pan (or a brown bag) and put them in the back window on a hot day. The sun and the heat of the car works magic. I’ve also used this method for sun-drying tomatoes, which took 2 days.

  • Hi…have been enjoying your blog for a while now, having been introduced to it by Fran. Sorry, I’m just getting around to reading the late June, early July entries, so I’m a little late weighing in. Have you tried drying herbs in your microwave? I have never had success air drying herbs (they tend to mildew), but am very pleased with the results of nuking them, and the fragrance is wonderful. Oregano, dill, mint, basil, thyme take only a few minutes. I usually stem them, and put them in a single layer on a double sheet of paper towels, and cover them with the same. I microwave them on full power for a minute or two (it’s easy to add another few seconds if needed). They come out beautifully dry and with a lot of color. I pack them in glass jars and keep them in the freezer. Purists may protest, but I really think they come out just fine.

  • I tried the pilot light method with my mint last night and it didn’t dry well (I’m guessing that the pilot light on modern stoves is more conservative) but I turned the oven to 170 this morning and in ten minutes I had perfectly dried mint ready to make homemade but repellent. Thank you for the information. I’m sure I’ll be checking back for more helpful hints.

  • I have tried oven drying twice and both times the oregano lost its smell and therefore, I’m assuming, it’s flavor. Am I leaving it in the oven too long? This last time it was only an hour on 175. Maybe if I try the overnight pilot light method that would be better. I guess I’ll give it a try. Too bad I have wasted so much oregano already!

  • Hi there…:) My oregano is huge and flowering….do I dry the flower also or should I remove it? Is there anything I can do with the flower? Thanks