Electric dehydrators can be expensive, take up space and cost more in electricity.
But your mint needs to be harvested now before it takes over the yard and blooms. At the same time, your calendula flowers are going nuts, and the roses are blooming.
Dehydrating without an electric dehydrator can save initial costs in preserving your food, save on electricity, and save on counter space.
But what are the best methods for dehydrating without a dehydrator?
Before we start:
This herbal information is just that, information. This blog post and I DO NOT INTEND to treat, cure, or diagnose any disease or illness. This is for informational, educational and entertainment purposes only. Please consult a physician before using herbs medicinally.
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I LOVE dehydrating! It's my favorite form of preserving the harvest. It is relatively simple and doesn't require a lot of processing time, such as other methods like canning. The other great thing about dehydrating is that it keeps foods raw and preserves the most life without them deteriorating. Dried herbs, flowers, fruits, and roots have a long storage life, and they don't require electricity to keep reserved.
If you make many herbal preparations such as herbal teas, tinctures, salves, or oxymels, dried herbs are usually the best way to preserve your harvest!
Hang drying herbs is one of the simplest ways to dehydrate the harvest. We still use this method on our farm today, where it is applicable. Hang drying can be great for large batches of herbs where you don't want to take the leaves off before dehydrating. Sometimes it is easier to strip the leaves from culinary herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, mint, and tarragon after they have dried. The probably with leaving them on the stem and putting them in an electric dehydrator is that the stem will dry slower than the leaf. Most likely, the heat will be too high. Drying them by hanging is very efficient and safe without worrying about burning the leaves to get the stems dry enough.
Make a small bouquet of your herb of choice, leaving it on the stem. Take the leaves or flowers off the bottom 3-4 inches of the stem and then tie tightly with some twine and hang upside down in a dry area free from moisture and humidity until crisp and dry.
If you are worried about dust feels free to cover these herb bouquets with a paper bag before tying the string around them. This will keep the dust off as well as help them dry out better as the paper will soak up some of the moisture.
Dehydrating in your home oven can be super affordable since there is no additional equipment that needs to be purchased. While it is super handy to have your oven do your dehydrating, there are a few downsides. Oven temperatures are often not adjustable at the super low temperatures that fruits, flowers, and herbs need. Also, there is the risk of not catching the herbs in time (because dehydrating times vary depending on environments) and ending up cooking your food rather than drying it.
Dehydrate using your oven: Prepare the leaves, fruit, or other ingredients as you would for an electric dehydrator and place it on a lined baking sheet. Turn your oven on the absolute lowest and dry until the ingredients have lost all of their moisture. For delicate items like leaves, that need an even lower temperature, try leaving the oven off and turning on the pilot light with the door cracked and drying as mentioned above. Just make sure everyone in the house knows why the oven is OFF and open.
This method can take time and require you to be on the watch the whole time you have the oven on (possibly 6-8 hours). While this isn't necessarily the most consistent drying method, this is an affordable way to dehydrate botanicals.
Air drying is very similar to hang drying in that they use the same form of air control but a different space to dry on. Air drying can be done in various ways, but this quick method works for small batches of flowers or herbs. It may not be the best method for fruits depending on your environment. Here in Oregon, there is a lot of moisture, and so things tend to mold easily. In Arizona, for instance, its dryer and warmer, so fruits might work this way.
To air drying things like flower petals: pluck and place on a dry surface like a paper towel or butcher paper and let dry at room temperature until crisp. If the desired cover with another light paper towel to keep bugs and dust off, as well as little hands that might be around.
Herb curing cabinets are the home herbalist's dream. This is not a photo of an herb curing cabinet... as this home herbalist is still dreaming. I'm going to have to get my Farmer on that, though!
While this isn't the dreamy herb cabinet the idea is basically the same. This is our 24 tray Cabella's dehydrator (which is no longer available) that we use here for our tea business and large batches. An herb curing cabinet is basically the same thing minus the electricity, metal, and glass. The cabinet is often built out of wood, and inside are wood-framed racks with screens, much like window screens. These follow the air-dry method, where there is no electrical adjustment to the temperature in the cabinet. IT saves on those paper towels, clothes, or butcher paper and gives the home herbalist much more space for preserving the harvest. Plus, they look really cool!
In the heat of summer, when there is nothing better than to be outside in the garden, you might be tempted to just sundry those herbs, fruits, and flowers!
It's a good idea but let me tell you what you want to do it right. The first time I had the bright idea and didn't do my research first, we cut and laid a ton of comfrey off the front porch.
First off, we laid it on the cement porch, so the airflow was not going all the way around it but only over the front of it. Moisture is dehydrating's #1 enemy.
Secondly, we put it in the sun, the direct sunlight. So the side that did dry practically burnt.
All I can say is that it was a good lesson. We learned what not to do. When dehydrating with the sundry method, you want to make sure that you have plenty of airflow. Also, make sure that your weather is appropriate. A moist, muggy day isn't going to be your friend. A hot 100-degree day will be a day where you want to hang your herbs in the shade. The temperature in your are needs to be one where the herbs, fruits, or flowers are going to dry quickly. This is why we see raisins 'sun-dried' in California. Here in Oregon, they would just mold.
To sundry your flowers and herbs, I recommend trying them like in the hang-drying scenario. Then hanging them outdoors out of direct sunlight if you have the appropriate conditions. Drying them on racks would also work. Home herbalists will also stick those racks in their warm cars to increase the heat level. This will also keep the bugs off of your goodies.
Fruits having higher sugar content make them a good option for sun-drying. If you are sun-drying fruits, I would make sure you had the right temperature and humidity; otherwise, you risk them molding. I would use extreme caution here as fruits can be much more complicated to dry in the sun that herbs and flowers. Also, the fruits will attract bugs more easily.
Cut the fruit in thin pieces and place on a tray with a rack so that the backside and the front side of the fruit slices have air circulating around them. Cover them with a thin cheesecloth to help keep the bugs and debris at bay. Make sure to turn the fruit often so that it gets even airflow and heat. It may take about 2 days for your fruit to dry. If the evening air cools off and gets colder, make sure to bring them inside.
The temperature outside must be at least 85 degrees, and the hotter, the better. As well as humidity below 60 percent.
There are so many wonderful ways to dehydrate your herbal goodies from the garden without a dehydrator. As you can see, though, you save on money, perhaps you don't save on time and consistency.
Like anything with life, though, start with what you have and work from there! I bet many lessons will be learned just as we learned with our comfrey. If it sounds like dehydrating without a dehydrator is a little bit too inconsistent, make sure to check out our post here on drying fruits, roots, and botanicals here. I'm still after one of those herb drying cabinet though! They would be super handy for a few large batches of things here on the farm.
Have you tried any of these methods before? How did they work for you, and what way might you try next?