Make Your Own Herb Dryer
By Tony Buck
Over the years I’ve found the moist plants like tomatoes and peaches need to dry in 36 hours to prevent mold problems – so I use an electric dehydrator for those. Herbs are less fussy and can take longer, but they still need some protection whether they’re drying indoors or out. So I came up with this design for a simple herb dryer using commonly available supplies: window screen, 1 x 2” untreated #2 pine lumber (#1 has no knots and is twice the price), some 1 5/8” drywall screws, and some 3/8” staples.
My size was governed by the width of the window screen material I had laying around, which was 36 inches. So I thought let’s just make it 36 by 36”, that will give me 3 feet by 3 feet, which equals 9 square feet. I’ve found that’s about all the herb cutting and plucking amount I like to do in one session. And there are always many sessions through the season. It takes me about 20 minutes to cut my herbs from the garden and pluck off the leaves for the dryer, something I can easily fit into my schedule.
I wanted to get away with just one frame, but I realized that putting a second one on top would have several advantages for both indoor or outdoor use. It seals out insects, prevents wind or fans from blowing away the dried herbs, keeps debris from settling on contents, and makes it easier to move around if needed, etc.
There are therefore two frames and eight pieces of wood for them. Four need to be the width of your screen material, and four can be any equal length you choose. When connecting the pieces you’ll have to remember to put the same length pieces opposite each other. The screen width pieces get pre-drilled with a 3/16” drill bit so the screw can pass through it. If this isn’t done, the end of the wood piece will split. Then, using a screw bit in a drill, drive the screw into the other piece embedding the head of the screw just a little. If you have a great workbench to work on, that’s fine, but if not, arrange the frame on a flat floor when screwing together to help keep it from twisting.
Once the frames are complete, lay the window screen over each one and staple it down keeping the screen fairly taught. As you do this, the screen will help you square up your frames if they need it. I use a slap stapler, but an open paper stapler can be used for this as well. Put staples about every 6 inches to begin with, then once you’re happy with it, go back and put a staple every 2 inches. Short thin nails with some kind of head on them can also work, but using nails might require a wood strip over the screen to nail through.
Two leftover 1 by 2” pieces can be screwed to the base frame to raise it off any surface it sits on, increasing air flow underneath and keeping it out of any debris. As you can see, I put a couple of drywall screws at four opposing corners to use rubber bands, recycled from vegetable labels, to hold the two frames together. You could also use another method like bungee cords or hook and eyes.
The frame shown has mint leaves in it. These take about 7 days to dry indoors. When they are dry I put them in a ziplock style plastic bag, or a glass jar, write the contents and year on it – and what number cut it was – because I’ll harvest that 3 times up to the last one in fall. I like to keep the leaves whole because that’s more convenient for culinary use. However, if I dried them enough and I want to fill tea bags, I’ll put them in the coffee grinder for a quick whizz to reduce the size more like tea leaves.
Another note, if you take your lumber sizes to the store, they’ll usually cut them for you at no extra charge. Then you’ll just have to do the assembling. When I came up as an apprentice we used to say, “does it have to fly?” because if it doesn’t, don’t get too crazy about accuracy and looks, just get it done.
I rarely drink herbal tea when I’m not at home because it never measures up to homegrown. So I encourage everyone, with even the smallest plant patch, to harvest whatever they have for beverages, culinary use or aromas, because the benefits are many fold.