Basil and chives are the easiest herbs to grow and dry. Save money growing your own herbs and drying them in a simple dehydrator. This method gives you organic herbs at a fraction of the cost!
Buying herbs at the grocery store can be expensive. Growing and drying them at home is very easy and takes only a little time.
The two easiest herbs to grow at home are chives and basil. If you’ve never grown and dehydrated your own herbs before, start with basil and chives. They are easy to grow and dry and both herbs grow very well in containers if you have minimal or no garden space.
Chives are similar to green onions but are smaller and have a milder flavor. I use them a lot in place of onions in my cooking. They’re especially good in potato salad because they provide a mild rather than overpowering onion flavor as well as a pretty green to liven up the bland coloring of potato salad.
They’re a pretty addition to your any kind of garden with their thick, green stalks and pretty lavender pom-pom flowers. If you can get them into your soil, they pretty much take care of themselves. They’re about as low-maintenance as a plant can get.
Chives can be purchased at most garden centers. Use a clump of chives rather than seeds to start growing them. Perennials can be difficult to start from seed. They divide easily and are great for plant-sharing with friends. Just use a shovel or garden trowel and shove it into edge or center (depending on how big a plant you want) and break it apart making sure you get plenty of the roots. Then transfer your start to where you want it planted, place it in loose soil, water and fertilize it with Dr. Earth’s Tomato, Vegetable & Herb Fertilizer it and keep it watered until it looks healthy and is growing well. After about 10 days of transplanting your start, you shouldn’t have to water it every day.
When the flowers are brown and dry, remove them (this is called dead-heading) to encourage the plant to grow. When the dead blossoms are left on plants, the plant puts its energy into creating seed. You want it to create more leaves for you to use. Removing the dead blossom removes the need for the plant to create seed and it will instead produce more leaves.
Harvesting and Drying Chives
Chives can be cut at any time to use in cooking. Don’t use the thick, woody stalks that contain the flower. Use the soft, hollow stalks. They should feel like the tops of the green onions you buy in the store. Just cut them off at about one inch from the base of the plant with a paring knife or kitchen shears.
Rinse them off in cold water and pat them dry with a paper towel.
Leave the stalks long and place them on the racks of your dehydrator with plenty of space between the stalks to allow for thorough drying. Dry them on medium-high heat for about 2-3 hours depending on the humidity levels where you live. If you live in a dry climate, your herbs will dry much faster. If you live in a very humid climate, they may take longer.
I like to dry my chives on the deck to keep the onion fragrance out of my home.
Once they are dry I use kitchen scissors to cut them into small pieces. I recommend putting the stalks in the Mason jar and cutting them in it. The pieces are very dry and light and tend to fly everywhere. Cutting them in the jar keeps them contained.
I save those desiccant packets from powdered drinks to use in my jars of herbs to keep them fresh. Store your herbs in a sealed container. I like to use Mason jars. The size of the Mason jar doesn’t really matter. Just make sure the lid is on tight and they are stored in a cool, dark place to preserve the flavor.
Basil is also a very easy-to-grow herb that dries and stores beautifully. It requires a sunny spot to grow and water every day during hot, dry spells. Water every other day during average weather. Fertilize about once every couple of weeks with the Dr. Earth’s fertilizer shown above.
There are several different varieties of basil. I prefer to use the standard Spicy Globe Basil. This variety is very common and easy to find at just about any garden center. It is easy to grow from both seeds and from seedling plants.
I grow mine from seed in a large container. In my experience, basil seems to grow better in a container, which means I can grow it on the deck and close to the kitchen affording easy access to its goodness 🙂
I just let the plant die down for the winter and in the spring harvest the seeds from the dead stalks and replant them. It will reseed itself, but I like to make sure I’ll have a plant so I go ahead with harvesting and planting the seeds even though I really don’t need to.
Harvesting and Drying Basil
Harvest basil when there are at least couple of “layers” of leaves. You’ll want to leave some leaves behind to keep the plant alive. Just pinch off the number of leaves you want with your fingernails or cut them off with kitchen shears.
Rinse them off and pat them dry with a paper towel. Remove the leaves from the stalks and arrange them on the dehydrating try so that there is space between each leaf to allow for good air and heat circulation.
Dry them on low heat for about 2-3 hours, again with the humidity affecting drying time. I don’t mind drying basil in the house. The fragrance is fantastic. 🙂
When the leaves are dry, leave them whole and store them in a jar following the same instructions as for the chives. Leaving them whole allows the flavor to last longer. You can crumble them in your hands as you use them.
Fresh basil leaves are AMAZING on homemade pizza. Just cook the pizza and top with fresh basil and enjoy. Or chop them up to use in pasta, adding them at the end to preserve the flavor. I just snip the leaves into small pieces into my dishes with the kitchen shears.
Choosing a Dehydrator
There are a variety of styles of dehydrators. I use a very basic one by Open Country that I’ve had for several years and used to not only dry herbs but dry cinnamon apple slices (instructions for this delicacy coming this fall!), cherries, and venison jerky.
If you want a dehydrator that is a Prime product, I would get this one:
This Cuisinart dehydrator offers the features you need at a good price. I don’t mind paying a mid-range price to get temperature control and the ability to use additional trays if I choose. I’ve had good experience with the Cuisinart brand, and this dehydrator is getting good reviews so I think I can safely recommend it.
Being able to control the temperature yourself I think is the most important feature of a food dehydrator. Second would be the ability to purchase and use additional trays if you are going to be drying a lot of items at once. I also like one that doesn’t take up a lot of space to store.
A dehydrator with a dial rather than digital control panel is important to me. In my experience, digital control panels on any kitchen appliance don’t last as long as a dial control.
- At your local garden center, choose seedling starts of chives and basil. Plant them in your herb garden or in your containers, water them well and fertilize for a good start.
- Harvest both plants with a paring knife, kitchen shears, or just pinch with your fingernails. Leave about an inch of stalk on the chive and leave some leaves behind on the basil.
- Rinse the harvested herbs with cool water and dry with a paper towel.
- Place the whole chive stalks and basil leaves on the drying tray not touching each other to allow for good heat and air circulation.
- Dry chives outside or in a garage to keep the onion fragrance out of your home. Basil fragrances your home nicely so go ahead and dry it inside if you like.
- Snip the dried chive stalks into small pieces with kitchen shears and store in a Mason or any lidded glass jar.
- Store the basil leaves whole in a Mason or any lidded jar. Crumble between your hands as you use them.
- Use a desiccant packet from powdered drinks in your jars of dried herbs to keep them fresh.
- Choose a dehydrator with a dial control that allows you to control the temperature and for the use of additional trays.