A few weeks ago I brought in some herbs for drying. I am always watching the herbs in the garden trying to catch the leaves at their peak time to bring them in for use in the winter. There are few things more satisfying to me when I am in my kitchen than walking over to the herb shelf to retrieve oregano or basil I watched grow in our garden.
I like to cut my herbs first thing in the morning - and after a good rain the night before when possible. Actually, I try to make a point of getting outside to pick herbs and vegetables on most mornings after rain. I find that the plants look and feel healthier and alive - and when every drop of water they absorb is being pulled into the air during the summer they get tired and are less potent. I try my best to cut stems just before they flower to help ensure I'm getting the maximum medicine or flavor out of them I can. (I am human and I have a life so this is my disclaimer - I try my best to pick our herbs at the most opportune times - especially if I am going to dry them, but I don't always because life is not that seamless. What I do is try - this is my ideal.)
When I cut herbs I seldom take the whole plant. I try to take the oldest growth leaving new growth to keep growing and I continue to harvest this way for most of the summer. With Lemon Balm this is super helpful since it grows everywhere easily. By keeping it cut and drying or tincturing or in vases I keep it pretty well under control and it stays beautiful in the garden longer. (Lemon Balm is one of my favorite herbs)
After I get my herbs cut I bring them inside and rinse them in COLD water and place them on towel to drain off excess water. Washing the herbs lets me get any insects off of them and ensures I'm only drying the best leaves for later.
Once they've drained a little I tie the herbs into small bundles. I usually only put 7-10 stems in a bundle. I find that the bigger bundles take longer to dry and they can get a little moldy in the middle of the bundle if I am not careful. I also try to make sure the stems are all about the same length. I put short stems with other short stems and long stems with long stems (when possible).
We have a long dark hallway with a high ceiling and I hang my herbs on a piece of jute we've got tacked to the wall. There's a lot of air movement in the hall and very little light. After a couple of weeks of hanging I like to turn the bundles so the leaves that were closest to the wall get exposed to more air. This also helps to ensure even drying. It takes anywhere from three to six weeks for the bundles to dry. I know they are dry when the leaves break off easily and they crumble in my hands.
I take the bundles to the kitchen and remove the leaves from the stem straight into my food processor. I grind them up and in the winter I have herbal teas, cooking herbs, and healing herbs.
I store my herbs in clean glass jars in a dark cool place.