dried oregano in a bowl

Harvested and dried oregano

Updated: July 22, 2021

Harvesting herbs

  • Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Harvest up to three-quarters of the current season’s growth each time. Harvest herbs before they flower, otherwise leaf production will decline.
  • Work clean while harvesting! Wash your hands with soap and water, dry with a paper towel, or use a 60% alcohol-based hand sanitizer if your hands are visibly clean of soil. Use a pair of washed (soap and water) scissors or clippers, and a washed bowl to harvest herbs.
  • Pinch out stems at a leaf node to encourage lateral branching, instead of picking off a leaf here and there.
  • To ensure good oil content, pick leaves or seeds after dew has disappeared but before the sun becomes too hot.    
  • Herbs acquire their fragrance and flavor from oils that evaporate into the air when the leaves are crushed. Do not cut or crush herbs until ready for use or as directed. Always use very sharp scissors or a sharp knife to chop herbs. Herbs can be used fresh or preserved for later use.

Rinsing herbs for drying and freezing

  • Remove any foreign matter, insects, and any unwanted bruised, soiled imperfect leaves and stems.
  • Rinse herbs under running water, NO soap, bleach, vinegar, or other cleaner is needed.
  • Gently shake to remove excess moisture. You could use a paper towel, but this may cause bruising, leading to premature flavor loss.
  • Check to make sure all desired foreign matter has been removed.

Methods to freeze herbs

The freezer temperature should be 0°F or below (use an appliance thermometer to monitor freezer temperature). Freezing parsley and other herbs may cause them to develop off-flavors, increased bitterness, and texture loss.

Freezing in small groupings

  • After following the above directions to safely harvest and rinse your herbs...
  • Use a paper towel to pat dry your herbs, and wrap a few sprigs or leaves in freezer wrap.
  • Place in a labeled freezer bag and seal.
  • Keep your bag of herbs in your freezer.

Tray-packing

  • After following the above directions to safely harvest and rinse your herbs...
  • Use a paper towel to pat dry your herbs.
  • Lay sprigs or leaves as a single layer on a sheet pan and freeze.
  • When herbs are frozen, gather and store in a labeled freezer bag and seal.
  • Keep your bag of herbs in your freezer.

Methods to dry herbs

The best methods to dry herbs are: dehydrator, air drying, oven drying, and microwave drying. Sun drying is not recommended, because herbs can lose flavor and color, and high summer humidity levels may reduce quality.

Air drying herbs-indoors (several days for best quality)

Drying both tender (e.g. basil, oregano, etc.) and less tender (e.g. rosemary, sage, thyme, etc.) in a clean paper bag will allow any leaves and seeds that fall to be caught in the bottom of the bag. Drying herbs in a paper bag will also help reduce the potential of dust and pests from landing on drying herbs in your home.

  • Safely punch holes in a clean paper bag. Holes will increase air ventilation to dry the herb.
  • Tie a small bunch of herbs together by the cut stem end. A large bunch of herbs can cause molding.
  • Put the bundle in the paper bag and use string to tie the bag closed. Have enough string so you can tie the other end to a structure in your home to allow the herbs to hang.
  • Dry in a warm, well-ventilated, and dry indoor room for best quality.

Dehydrator drying herbs (1 to 4 hours)

  • Read the dehydrator instruction manual. Most dehydrators will need to be preheated between 95°F-115°F. In humid locations preheating to 125°F may be needed.
  • After rinsing herbs, pick each leaf off the stem and lay leaves in a single layer without overlapping on the dehydrator tray(s).
  • Check herbs periodically.

Oven drying herbs (overnight)

  • Best for high humidity environments, and for mint, sage, and bay leaves.
  • After rinsing herbs, pick each leaf off the stem and lay leaves in a single layer without overlapping on a clean paper towel. Stack another clean paper towel and layer of herbs on top, and repeat for a total of five layers.
  • Dry in a very cool oven-either with the oven light of an electric range or pilot light of a gas range to dry overnight.
  • Leaves will dry flat and hold their color.

Microwave drying herbs (2 to 3 minutes)

  • Read the microwave manual for specific herb drying recommendations. A wattage of 1,000 or higher may be too high to dry herbs.
  • Dry small amounts, about a cup of herbs at a time.
  • After rinsing and drying herbs, pick each leaf off the stem and lay leaves in a single layer without overlapping on microwave-safe paper towels. Time will vary, due to herb type and microwave power level.
  • Microwave on high for 1 minute, mix after every 30 seconds and check for dryness every 30 seconds; approximately 2-3 minutes per cup of herbs.

Testing for dryness (all methods)

  • Leaves are dry when they crumble; stems should break when bent.

Herb storage

  • Store dried herbs whole, crumbled, or ground in a labeled airtight container, with a tight-fitting lid.
  • Store in a cool, dry, dark location, away from sunlight, heat, moisture, and air.
  • Store dried herbs for up to 6 months.

References
Andress, E.L. & Harrison, J.A. (2014). So Easy to Preserve 6th ed. Cooperative Extension/The University of Georgia/Athens.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 17). Handwashing: Clean Hands Save Lives.
Food and Drug Administration. (2018, June 10). 7 Tips for Cleaning Fruits, Vegetables.
Henneman, A. (n.d.). Add a Little Spice (& Herbs) to Your Life! University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, Lancaster County.
Penn State Extension. (2019, March 24). Let’s Preserve: Drying Herbs.
U.S. Department of Agriculture (2013, June 15). Freezing and Food Safety.
 

Contributors to this section: UME Family & Consumer Sciences Agents: Beverly Jackey, MS, RDN, Cheryl Bush, MS, RDN, and Shauna C. Henley, PhD