3 Ways to Dry Herbs for Tea

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Chamomile tea

Drying herbs for tea is one of the easiest ways to enjoy the flavours and aromas of your garden year-round. From refreshing mints to super-sweet stevia to the bouquet fragrance of holy basil, many garden herbs are at their best when dried and steeped into tea.

Because they are used in concentrated form, dried tea herbs often deliver the same nutrients and essential oils as fresh ones. Garden grown tea herbs provide a huge range of vitamins, minerals, and unpronounceable natural compounds that enhance health, all pretty much for free.

Apple-scented chamomile blossoms, ready for harvesting

I dry tea herbs in spurts from spring to autumn, because like other garden plants, tea herbs don’t reach their prime all at once. Hardy perennials including stinging nettle, catnip, and lemon balm kick off the season, with chamomile and mints not far behind.

After a summer wait, holy basil and stevia join the lineup. Along the way, I might dry a few leaves from raspberry, monarda, agastache (anise hyssop), or rugosa roses. Every year is different, which is part of the fun of growing and drying herbs for tea.

Drying holy basil
A summer crop of holy basil dries in a mesh screen dryer hung in a shady spot

Harvesting Tea Herbs for Drying

Most tea herbs are at their best when they are fully leafed out and are beginning to produce buds or flowers. Not that flowers are bad. Chamomile is grown for its flowers, holy basil cannot be held back from blooming, and the flowers of mints, lavender or anise hyssop make nice additions to garden tea mixtures. Harvesting also stimulates new growth of herbs that respond to cutting back by growing new branches.

In a perfect world, tea herbs are harvested after a nice rain that washes the foliage and plumps up the leaves. When the weather is less cooperative, give plants a good watering the day before you plan to harvest them, spraying down the foliage in the process. The best time to harvest is mid to late morning when dew has dried off and leaves are warm from the sun, but anytime the plants are not stressed will do. Clean the herbs by swishing them in cool water, especially herbs with furry leaves that grow close to the ground. Shake dry and get busy.

A dehydrator takes the sting out of drying nutritious nettles for tea

Drying Tea Herbs

The three drying methods most often used with tea herbs are air drying, using a dehydrator, or microwave drying small batches. Each has pros and cons.

1. Air-Drying Herbs

Air drying herbs by hanging them in small bunches looks cool, but it does not result in a very good product. Little spiders and other hitchhikers may be present, exposure to light degrades the plants’ flavour and nutrients, and high humidity levels can lead to molds. Air-drying tea herbs on screens in a shady, well-ventilated space often works better, provided you have dry weather. When I have too many tea herbs to fit in my dehydrator, I start them off air-drying in a hanging net shelf.

2. Drying Herbs in a Dehydrator

A dehydrator set very low, at under 110°F (43°C), is the most efficient way to dry a large crop of any tea herb, which can be placed on the shelves still attached to the stems. The leaves dry within a few hours, after which they are stripped off, with the stems sent to the compost pile.

Lemon balm
Lemon balm leaves ready for drying in the microwave

3. Drying Herbs in a Microwave

Drying herbs in a microwave oven is a great method for small batches, and it’s fun because you get to see the moisture that is removed from the leaves. You will need two plates and three or four clean paper towels to dry herbs in a microwave.

Place a paper towel on a plate, and arrange a thick single layer of leafy herbs from which stems have been removed. Cover with a second paper towel and place in the microwave, tucking under the corners if needed. Microwave on high 45 seconds; you will start to smell the herbs steaming.

Remove from the oven. Without removing the top paper towel, cover with the second plate. Invert the two plates. Lift off the top wet plate and wipe it dry; set aside the wet paper towel.

Cover the herbs with a dry paper towel and repeat the procedure. Invert back onto the first plate. Some herbs need a third cycle, others don’t. When the leaves begin to crisp, place them on a clean plate in a pre-warmed 100°F (38°C) oven for an hour or so. You’re done!

Chamomile tea
Sit back and relax with your homegrown herbal tea. Ahh, that's better!

Storing Dried Tea Herbs

Store dried tea herbs in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. Exposure to light can quickly cause dried herbs to lose their colors. I use glass canning jars and coffee cans with snap-top lids, kept in a dark basement cabinet.

Wait until the water is on to boil to crumble leaves into small pieces for steeping into tea. Whole or moderately crushed dried tea herbs hold onto their aromatic compounds better than fine powders.

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