The secrets to drying flowers and herbs for spicy potpourri and romantic dried arrangements couldn't be easier. Almost anything can be dried!
Choose a time for harvest when the plants are completely dry and lowest in moisture content. Afternoon on a sunny day following a dry period is best. Low moisture content in the plant material greatly speeds the drying process. The faster the plant material can be dried the better its preservation.
Pick fresh, mature blooms and foliage in healthy condition. Slightly damaged blossoms and foliage are acceptable for potpourri or cut up as herbs for cooking. Avoid severely damaged or diseased blooms, young foliage and delicate blooms that often perish into dust. Long-stemmed flowers and branches, bushy stems of herbs, individual blooms or even loose petals and leaves can all be easily dried.
Dry the harvest in a warm, dry place with good air circulation out of direct sunlight. Hot water closets, sheds, garages and attics are usually excellent places for drying.
Hang-drying is the easiest and most effective method for drying most flowers, leaves and herbs. Simply harvest long stems and, if drying flowers, strip the leaves from the stems to avoid unattractive shriveling. Gather in small bunches of 5 to 10 being careful not to crowd flower heads or they will dry distorted. Fasten each bunch with an elastic band. Small S hooks can be made with wire and looped through the elastic band so that bunches can be easily hung on strings, wires, racks, along beams or even from old bed screens.
Oven-drying is a quick method for drying petals or thick, fleshy flower heads. All the same materials can be oven-dried as air-dried with an identical effect. Simply place the petals or flower heads on cookie sheets one layer deep. Place in a cool oven (100 F) and leave the oven door slightly ajar. Watch the materials carefully. The process will take from a few minutes to a few hours.
Air-drying works best for loose petals, flower heads, single stemmed flowers and leaves. The materials are spread one layer deep on a flat surface like a shallow cardboard box or window screen. Place flower heads facing up and arrange leaves and stems as you wish them to dry. Put the boxes in an airy, dry spot out of direct light to dry over a couple of weeks.
Silica Gel is a powdery, sand-like substance bought from the chemist or florist that absorbs moisture from plant material very quickly. Simply fill a container one-third full with silica gel that can be mixed with fine sand. Gently press individual flowers into the gel or arrange the blooms or leaves as you wish them to dry. Then gently cover the entire bloom with the silica. Check daily and carefully remove the blooms when they are dry but before they become brittle. This usually takes two or three days. Dust off any remaining silica with a soft brush. Petals that drop can be glued back in place. Silica gel can be reused indefinitely if occasionally dried at 250C in the oven to remove absorbed moisture.
To water-dry simply stand flower stems in hot water to which has been added a small amount of glycerin. Place the container in a warm area out of the sun for a day or two so the solution can draw into the stem and flower. This will preserve the flower with a glossy sheen that will last for years.
Store dried materials like herbs and petals in jars, bags, boxes or air-tight containers out of direct sun, intense heat or humid air. Bunches can remain hanging if drying conditions remain ideal. Potpourri is best placed in air-tight jars with the lid removed occasionally to scent the room. Place dried arrangements in airy sites out of very bright light that will fade the blooms. Dried blooms wilt in humid air so to avoid this spray each bloom or the arrangement with a clear lacquer or hairspray.