It’s getting to be about that time of year to start harvesting and cutting the plants from your garden, or perhaps you’re wild foraging things to take home and use.
First things first, always use either a plant identification manual or get trained in plant identification before harvesting plants that you will be consuming in any way. There are some plants out there which are poisonous to people and/or animals.
When we cut flowers for the purposes of drying them, we usually want them to retain their color, aroma, and botanical/medicinal/magickal properties.
Cut the stems to no shorter than 6 inches in length. Tie the flowers in a bunch or hang them individually. They should hang upside down. Don’t dry them where they will be exposed to sunlight. A dark, dry room is the best, such as a basement or interior windowless room.
Flowers usually need to dry for about 3 weeks.
Herbs may require some additional work on your part. Depending on the moisture content, you may be able to air dry them, but if they have a higher moisture content like those in the mint family (including basil, spearmint, and lemon balm, as well as garlic or chives), you will do best to dry in an oven or dehydrator.
Herbs are best cut in the early morning, as that is when their essential oils are most potent in their leaves.
To air dry, bundle a few stems worth together and tie with string, floss, or twine. Hang them upside down in a dry area away from light. Herbs with lower moisture content will dry faster than flowers, and can take just a week, but possibly two, to fully dry out. Some sources recommend placing a paper bag over them as they dry. I find this is optional.
To oven dry or dehydrate, set your oven for low heat (~150F) and leave the door open. The herbs can be placed on a cookie sheet and you’ll let them sit in the open oven for a few hours (usually not more than 4). Dehydrators work much more quickly and you may only need 1-2 hrs on a medium heat setting. Check them about every 30 min to see how much the leaves crumble. If they crumble very easily, they are done.
Drying Other Plants
This is kind of the catchall category for other stuff you might harvest or forage that you want to dry and use. It might include tree leaves, weeds of various kinds, or shrubs (the non-fruit parts).
Depending on whether you want them to retain their vibrant hues of greens or other colors, either place them in sunlight (this will dry them faster, but fade the color) or away from sunlight (they won’t fade as much).
If you want your leaves flat for whatever reason, press them in between pages of a book. This method will take a week or more. You may need to check on them from time to time to make sure they are drying out appropriately.
You can also dry these through the same methods as flowers or herbs, mentioned above, but due to the wide variety of plant types and moisture content, plan to check on them semi-often to ensure they are drying out.