Living in such a mild climate means I’m lucky to have fresh herbs year-round, growing in the ground and staying as fragrant in winter as they do in summer.
I almost always use fresh herbs in all my cooking, but there are times when I’ll reach for my dried herbs — oregano being one of them. Dried oregano is probably the most-used dried herb in my kitchen. I like to fold a spoonful of crumbs into my artisan bread dough, or sprinkle it onto homemade garlic bread. It also goes into salad dressings, marinades, and dry rubs for meat. I use a lot of it. And since I have an abundance of Greek oregano that loves to take over my herb bed, I also dry a lot of it after I’ve pruned the plant.
Many people swear by hanging herbs up to dry, but I’ve never found this practical in my kitchen. It’s too small, too sunny, and merely a matter of when, not if, someone bumps into the hanging herbs and causes crumbs to scatter across the floor. I wish I had the space to hang a line of long-stemmed herbs, bundled up and tied together with rustic twine (and even leave them up for decoration, the way I always see them in the magazines), but alas, that notion is more storybook than it is suitable for Casa Garden Betty.
What I do is plain and simple, and takes under an hour as opposed to a week (a plus if I need my dried herbs for dinner that day). I use my oven!
The oven-drying method works for oregano as well as parsley, sage, thyme, mint, and basil (that I’ve tried).
Start with very fresh herbs from your garden; if you grow organically, there’s no need to wash them. Choose sprigs that have uniformly sized leaves so they all dry at the same time.
Remove any ratty leaves and spread the herbs out, stems and all, in a single layer across a baking sheet. Try not to overlap them too much as you want air to circulate between the leaves.
Set your oven to its lowest temperature setting; mine hovers around 200°F. Once it’s preheated, place your tray of herbs on the middle rack and prop the door open slightly with a wooden utensil to allow some air movement.
Then (important step!) turn the oven off and let the herbs dry inside while the heat slowly dissipates. This method ensures the delicate leaves won’t burn. They dry within 10 or 15 minutes, but I leave them in the oven until the temperature is completely cool before removing the tray. I simply set it and forget it, then come back to the kitchen in an hour to destem the oregano and pack the leaves into a jar.
If your oven goes lower (170°F or so), you can likely leave the oven on for the whole duration of the drying process, but you’ll have to be vigilant to ensure you’re not “cooking” the herbs or leaving them in for too long.
Make sure the oregano is completely dry before you seal it in a jar, as any moisture left in the leaves can cause mold. They should crumble easily when you slide your fingers down the stem.
I know it seems slightly oxymoronic to call dried herbs “fresh,” but I really do love having fresh dried herbs on hand — from my garden — rather than the dried herbs that have been sitting on a store shelf for who knows how long!
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