How the Food Dehydrator Saved My Garden

Fresh oregano for drying

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We make homemade pizza, and basil and oregano are essential ingredients. Pizza night happens fairly regularly, in fact nearly every weekend–often enough to prompt me to look to the garden. I grow both basil and oregano, but had never thought of drying herbs at home.

Why grow your own herbs in the first place?

  • Fresh garden herbs have superior flavor you can’t find in a store.
  • All summer, you have fresh herbs to use! You can also plant in pots or even inside if you don’t have outdoor space.
  • Seeds are cheap, compared to those precious little jars!

If you grow herbs, why bother to dry them? It’s so much work!

  • Dried fresh garden herbs have a brilliant fresh flavor and color. You can’t buy it like this.
  • In the case of perennials like oregano, it’s already out there! All you have to do is cut and dry.
  • It’s not really that much work. Cut with scissors, spread on the food dehydrator trays and turn the machine on!

Years ago, I bought a little four-inch pot of oregano. I think it was a Mother’s Day special at the local greenhouse. It’s now a justifiable shrub and taking over the herb garden! The stems grow to two feet and it blooms and grows from June through October. That’s a whole lot of oregano, but I hadn’t been taking advantage of the abundance in my own backyard!

My grandmother had the first food dehydrator I’d ever seen. She was an old-fashioned homemaker, kept chickens and had a pantry and a back kitchen. I thought a dehydrator was a luxury for such a lifestyle, but she was keen on putting food away for the future, most immediately winter, which was long and fierce in her part of the woods. This food dehydrator was a dinosaur that must have doubled the electric bill every time time it was powered up.

Fortunately for the rest of us, food dehydrators have come a long way since then!

I now have my own food dehydrator, and it’s one of the best purchases I’ve made. My garden is ultimately more productive, because nothing goes to waste. Fruits, herbs and vegetables have earned longevity thanks to this machine. So far, it’s dried tomatoes, peppers and squash; blueberries, strawberries, bananas and apples; hops; dill, cilantro, and, for the pizza, the all-important basil and oregano.

I did my research before I purchased: I read ratings and articles and researched the companies. Ultimately I went with the 9-tray Excalibur food dehydrator, because of its great capacity and claims of even drying (which, happily, I am able to confirm!) I also bought the pack of 9 Dehydrator Sheets to accompany, which I’ve used to make apple leather—great for packing in kids’ lunches!

Back to the oregano, and the first test of drying herbs at home in the new food dehydrator. I cut and dried a whole batch of oregano, all nine trays full. After it was dry, my boys helped pick the larger stems out and push it through a strainer to crush into flakes. The result was a beautiful, brilliantly green herb in nice pizza-friendly flakes. There’s so much more oregano out in the garden, I’ll certainly dry a second batch and maybe more.

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  1. Right now I don’t have any herbs planted in my garden, but I think next year I’ll add them back in. I loved having fresh rosemary and basil, but so much went bad. I definitely think I need a dehydrator!

    1. I’ve lost a lot of basil just because I couldn’t use it all fast enough. The dehydrator has really been a lifesaver 🙂 Thanks for reading.

  2. I need one! I froze a bunch of herbs in ice cube trays but would love to have them in jars for the winter instead. also would love to make jerky with it too.

  3. Having basil in abundance would be reason enough for me to get a dehydrator. Yes to Pizza 🙂 Love the idea of the apple leather!

    1. Thanks for reading, Deanna! My first try at apple leather came out quite well. It was actually easier than I thought it would be.

  4. I remember having a food dehydrator growing up. My mom used it on a regular basis and it definitely served to preserve a lot of our food.

    1. Jamie, that’s awesome! I’ve used my dehydrator quite a lot but there are so many more things I’d like to try drying. Thanks for reading.

    1. Thanks Nicolette! Homemade pizza isn’t hard, as long as you have plenty of time. Another tip: use a bread machine to make the dough 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading! It’s one of those things: I’d never be without one now. Last year I dried a ton of kale, blended it into powder and added it to homemade soup all winter. Delicious!

      1. That is good to know! I have an oven that can dehydrate. I wonder if I could use that for this stuff. I have dried fruit in there, but that is about it so far.

        1. I’ve used my electric oven to dehydrate more substantial produce like tomatoes, but when I tried basil it just burned up. The temperature can’t be set low enough for tender greens. What type of oven do you have?

  5. I received a dehydrator for Christmas last year. It was on MY list and I STILL have not busted the darn thing out to use it. I really need to buckle down. Deer hunting season is upon us so we might be using it for some homemade jerky. My mom swears by hers. She uses it to preserve her abundance of mushrooms she grows!

    1. I hadn’t thought of drying mushrooms, great idea! The prep does take some time but it’s so worth it. I think I did best with the oregano and tomatoes this year, and will be enjoying them all winter! Thanks for reading.

    1. We grow tons of basil and oregano every year. We picked the basil and used it fresh while it lasted, and the oregano just ran wild. Dehydrating herbs will definitely be a part of the garden routine in the future! Thanks for reading.

  6. My dehydrator was a brilliant purchase, too!! My herb garden grows a ton, too, but that dehydrator is a life saver for getting the most out of your garden. How do you like the square dehydrator? I have a round one, and it does a great job. But one of my biggest debates during research was whether to go with the square or round. I just did a batch of parsley! And I have a TON of cilantro to do tomorrow, lol!

    1. Lifesaver, indeed! I love the square one. I researched too, and eventually decided the fan in the back made more sense to me. My grandmother’s was round, and she loved that one too. 🙂 I made apple leather last weekend, and there are still more tomatoes! Thanks for reading.

    1. I bought my dehydrator mainly for vegetables but have used it for lots of herbs too. In fact, this year I grew dill and cilantro for the first time just to dry it! Thanks for reading.

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