You buy a clamshell of fresh sage leaves, but the recipe only calls for six of them, leaving the majority of the herbs you spent $2.99 on to wither in the back of your crisper before you can figure out what to do with them. Or perhaps you garden and you can’t keep up with the aromatic bounty your plot puts forth.
Both of these scenarios happen to me, but since I’m a tightwad who hates wasting anything, I figured out a way to turn surplus herbs into shelf-stable gold that takes up barely any space…and saves me even more money in the long run.
I dry these herbs in about 60 seconds. Here’s how you can do it, too.
Nuke ‘Em All
Microwaving fresh herbs might seem bizarre on the face of it. But it’s actually the best method for drying herbs I know of. Microwaving fresh herbs is not only faster than other traditional methods; it’s fun and cool, plus you get a superior product. I find it preserves the flavor, aroma, and color more than slower techniques do.
Exactly where I learned this method is lost to the sands of time. I’ve been doing it for years and I rarely buy dried herbs from the store.
How To Dry Herbs in the Microwave
This method is fast, but it works best with a small amount, maybe six to 10 sprigs at a time. Both woody herbs (like rosemary) and tender herbs (like parsley) will work.
1. Gather your herbs and leave them on the stems. Pat them dry, if necessary.
2. Place them on a paper towel in the microwave.
3. Microwave on high power for 30 seconds. You may hear popcorn-like popping sounds, or see the herbs wilt. This is all normal; don’t fret.
4. Check on the herbs. They should be rigid, brittle, and not pliable. You’ll likely need to microwave them for a least another 30 seconds, for a minimum of 60 seconds if you are using a 1000-watt microwave. I tried this in a 750-watt microwave as well, and those herbs took 1:30 to 2 minutes.
Only microwave the herbs for 30 seconds at a time. Your total time will depend on the wattage of your microwave, plus the moisture level of the herbs you’re using. The herbs and/or the paper towel can singe and then burn if overcooked, which will smell unpleasant. Sometimes the herbs will firm up as they cool, so if they are mostly dry, let them sit and check back in a few minutes to see if they finished up on their own as they rested.
5. You’re done!
Nothing brings out your inner 12-year-old more than microwaving herbs. You should totally do this with kids, in fact. Seeing the herbs shrink down before your very eyes is a bit like the magic of baking Shrinky-Dinks in a toaster oven. It’s simultaneously destructive and creative.
What To Do With Home-Dried Herbs
I strip the leaves from the rigid, woody stems and tuck them away in old herb and spice bottles that I repurposed. Sometimes I keep the leaves whole—this works best for tiny thyme leaves, or leaves that you can easily crumble with your fingers, like sage. And sometimes I pulse them in an electric spice mill. Basil benefits from this treatment. Then I use them like regular dried herbs, ones that I have a sentimental attachment to.
If I wind up with quite a stockpile over time, I mix my dried herbs to make handy blends like Italian seasoning or poultry seasoning. You can even give them away as gifts.
If you don’t have a spice grinder, you can put the leaves on a cutting board and chop them up. Seriously! This isn’t as good for bulk applications, but it’s fine for teaspoon and tablespoon amounts. And it releases an incredible fragrance that’ll amp up your recipes way more than that dusty powder you get in the spice aisle.