The most important consideration for drying your herbs is that you ensure they are set up to stay fresh and clean long after your harvest. Most herbs are easy to dry and only require some processing before drying, and a little after prep. Follow the steps below:
Remove leaves from the stems:
If you have cut whole stems of your plant while originally gathering, the plant material will dry much faster if you remove the leaves, flowers, etc. from the stems. This can be done with scissors or by pincing the leaves off. Leaving the leaves on the stem is possible but it may take longer, or may result in a less evenly dried product since the leaves can take 2-3 days to dry completely and the stems may take longer.
Evenly spread out the plant material:
If you are fortunate to have a drying rack or trays to dry your harvest, then all the better, but if not you can spread out a few tea towels or clean material and allow your herbal harvest to air dry in a cool place, out of the line of direct sunlight. Consider the amount of traffic that may go by your drying location and limit how much dust, or debris might get exposed. Once you have spread out your material, you can run your hands over it and turn it slightly each day until you can feel that it is dry.
Check that the material is thoroughly dry:
To ensure that mold does not develop later on, check that the plant matter is completely dry. To do this, take a few pieces at their thickest part (think stem or leafy vein) and crunch the part to make sure that it snaps. If it is not completely dry, the material will feel more like it folds over, rather than snaps.
Place the material in the freezer:
I like to do a quick 2-3 days of freezing the plant harvest before I cut it up for tea. Since we harvested it organic and wild it's always worth while to quickly put it in the freezer to ensure that if there were any little insects or remnants, that they will be frozen and unable to continue afterwards.
Chop up the herbal material to make tea:
I tend to make smaller batches of tea at a time, so I place the herbal harvest into a large mixing bowl and with a clean pair of scissors cut up all of the pieces until I get them nice and small to expose a large surface area to the "infusion" (herb word for steeping tea). Some folks will use a coffee grinder for a quick chop so feel free to experiment.
Make or follow a recipe for Tea Blends:
Finally you can leave the herbs separated in their own bags (paper or ziplock) in a cool, dark cupboard, or you can combine them with other herbs that have tastes or medicinal actions that you would like. For example, "Sleepy Time Tea" could have chamomile, apple mint, and rosehips.
Label your finished product:
Don't make the mistake of assuming you will remember what you put in that bag, it is a good habit to write out the ingredients and date that the herbal tea was made. Dried herbs have a shelf life of about a year (after that their medicinal properties start to fade) so labeling is key to remember what is what and ensure that you get the most out of your harvest.
Tea blends are a wonderful gift ideas for friends and loved ones!
References for further reading:
Green, James. (2000) The Herbal Medicine-Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual. Crossing Press. USA