How to dry herbs for teas

I have been experimenting with a number of teas and herbal tea blends looking for useful (medicinal) and flavoursome teas. Of course, you can make lovely teas from fresh herbs and they look great in the cup.

MintTea

The trouble with fresh herbs is that they are not available all year. The next best option is to dry them for using later.

Retaining the flavour

Because herbs get their scents and flavours from their essential oils you need to take care to dry them in a way that keeps that flavour and oil intact. Essential oils are extremely volatile and will evaporate easily when exposed to light and heat. This is important to remember when picking them and drying them.

You key aim when drying herbs is to do it:

  • Quickly to avoid mould
  • Away from light
  • Without applying too much heat

If you are collecting herbs for drying from your own garden, harvest them in the morning when their oil content is at its highest. However, wait until any dew has evaporated. Overnight, the plants replenish the essential oils they gave up during afternoon heat.

Some herbs do not dry well and are best preserved by other methods. Herbs that do not dry well include parsley, coriander, rosemary, chives and basil. These herbs keep their flavours when made into herbal oils and vinegars which can be used in cooking rather than in teas.

Drying Leafy Herbs

During the winter our wood burner is going almost constantly. I have hastened the drying process by using a roasting tray on the top of the stove, but this is probably not the best option.

KawakawaDrying3KawakawaLeaves

Above: New Zealand Kawakawa leaves drying out on the stove

A better way is to hang the herbs, leaves down, with stems held together with a rubber band. Hang the herbs where they can dry away from direct light or heat. After a week they should be crispy-dry and the leaves should crumble easily off the stems.

Strip the leaves from the stems. Crumble them in your hands before storing the dried herbs in tightly covered glass jars, again away from direct light or heat. You can use a mortar and pestle but be careful not to crush the herbs into powder. Just as some cheaper teas are unpleasantly dusty, herbal teas will also become ‘dusty’ if over-worked.

KawakawaTeaGrindKawakawaTea1

A mortar and pestle can be used to crumble herb leaves for teas. The leaves above are the dried tea made from the kawakawa leaves.

Using a slow oven

If you cannot wait for your herbs to dry naturally, or they are taking longer than a week to dry, put them in your oven on the lowest temperature for no longer than 5 minutes.  Let the herbs cool at room temperature for 5 minutes before transferring to jars.

Drying Herbs in a Dehydrator

Drying herbs in a dehydrator has the advantage of being relatively quick. I have, however, found the dehydrator I bought took ages (and several hours of electricity) before the herbs were dried enough to be crumbled. Drying close to the fire was far more effective. However, here are some tips:

  • Strip larger leaves from the stems (e.g. lemon balm, mint and sage)
  • Leave small-leafed herbs on the stem (e.g. thyme)
  • Make sure herbs are spread thinly over the tray so they dry evenly
  • Dry at 95F/35C until crispy-dry. This will take 2-8 hours depending on the thickness of the leaves and the humidity in the air
  • Check every 2 hours to see if the herbs are dry yet

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Weed or herb? Yarrow makes a great tea

I have noticed that I am slow at taking up the opportunities that nature offers me in natural herbs. I think about what would be a good cure for something when the herb is no longer blooming or available. Yarrow is a perfect example.

Yarrow makes a good tea for you if you have a bad cold, according to Cynthia Wickham, author of Common Plants as Natural Remedies. Her directions are: “Take 30g dried herb to 600ml of boiling water, drunk warm in wineglassful doses”.

YARROWTeaIngredients72dpi

Luckily I do not have a severe cold, but I decided to try Yarrow herbal tea to see what it tastes like.

First, I’m pretty naff at translating measurements so I got the proportions wrong, and I was working with fresh Yarrow, so you’ll need to take my recipe and adjust it to suit.

  • 15g fresh Yarrow flower heads
  • 500 mls boiling water

YarrowTea72dpiInfuse in a teapot for 5 minutes and strain into a cup. The flavour is not strong, but very pleasant. It is slightly coloured.

Now if you are using dried flowers you would probably only need a teaspoon or so to get the same effect because the dried flowers condense down into a smaller amount.

Here’s what the tea looked like in the mug. And as I said, it did taste rather pleasant and I’m still here several hours later.

 

 

Gathering and drying

Right now in roadsides and fields Yarrow is blooming in New Zealand. In the northern hemisphere the seasons are different, so gathering the flowers will be about six months away. What I suggest is that you add a reminder to check for Yarrow about this time next year for Southern hemisphere residents and in six months for Northern hemisphere residents.

Dry the herb in a hot cupboard where your water heating cylinder is, or place on a rack over the wood burner. Don’t dry out too quickly or too near a steamy environment. Cover to keep the flowers from being contaminated by flies. Store in glass jars (preferably) but away from light. And label the contents.