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Dry Herbs for Winter Use

This article was originally published on October 22, 2012 and expired on October 29, 2012. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.

I recently harvested herbs from my garden. They are drying in my kitchen so that I will remember to use them regularly. I add them to my evening tea or as added flavor to our meals. Here are some of my favorites.

Lemon balm is true to its name. This plant has a very strong lemon scent and provides a nice subtle lemon flavor. My plant grew about two feet tall this year. Since this is a tender perennial and will most likely not survive our winter, I harvest the entire plant. To dry this plant tie the long stems together and hang the stems upside down. Mine hangs above my kitchen window like a valence. I add a couple leaves to many types of tea, including black and lavender.

Lavender is quickly becoming my favorite evening tea. I grow lots of lavender in my garden. The mild floral scent is heavenly and therapeutic. Studies have shown that just smelling lavender can reduce anxiety. Lavender is a perennial plant here and should survive a central Illinois winter. It does prefer a well-drained soil, however, and can die out in early spring if the roots stay wet too long. Since I'm leaving all my plants in my garden, I snipped a few longer shoots off every plant and placed them in a mesh metal basket to dry.

Mint is also a perennial plant, but it can be very invasive in a garden. My plants grow in a secluded corner and I am very careful not to allow it to escape to other parts of my yard. The opposite of lavender, mint is considered a "pick-me-up" herb. The slightly crusted whole leaves add zing to water, iced-tea, and mojitos. Spearmint is the traditional mint for use in mint juleps and mint tea.

Sage is a staple of my herb garden. I use it fresh and dried. Dried ground sage is a required ingredient in my meatloaf and turkey stuffing. I've been using the fresh leaves this summer to make a sage tea. It tastes just like turkey stuffing and is surprisingly good. This is also a perennial plant that overwinters here. I cut a few leaves off the plants and dry them in a wicker basket. I've also used sage leaves to make decorative wreaths. Once the leaves are dry, grind them in a mixer, food processor, or coffee grinder.

Stevia is a new herb in my garden. This natural sweetener is grown as an annual plant in our climate. Therefore, I harvested the entire plant and hung it upside down to dry. Once the leaves are dry, they are crushed to release stevia's sweetening power. For greatest effect, use a coffee grinder. Homegrown stevia lacks the potency of refined white stevia extract available in grocery stores. Still, I find that my homegrown stevia sweetens my herbal teas just fine.

Be sure to cut and dry your herbs so that you can use them all winter. Good air circulation is the key to successfully drying herbs. Sometimes drying is easier if the leaves are stripped from the stems and dried on screens or in food dehydrators. When dry, store the herbs in airtight containers and use regularly. Be sure not to use any pesticides on herbs you harvest to eat.

Source: Rhonda J. Ferree, Extension Educator, Horticulture & State Master Naturalist Coordinator, ferreer@illinois.edu

Pull date: October 29, 2012

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