Our Fire-Breathing Solar Dehydrator

The Serpentine Project’s solar dehydrator (aka The Beast)

Well, it doesn’t really breathe fire, but it certainly gets hot and dry in this thing.

Charles from BLD farm, built a solar dehydrator (aka “The Beast”) for the Serpentine Project. The nickname relates to the size of this particular dehydrator. The glass over the black sheet metal generates heat from the sun, which vents into the box. The box where the plants dry was painted black to generate more heat. The warm air rises through the plants on the screen shelves, and out through the chimney. Temperatures range from 80° on cloudy summer days and 130° on sunny days.

Potent herbal medicines are made from well-dried plants. After leaving the mountains of southern California, I learned that drying plants quickly in a humid environment is not easy. Each night, as temperatures drop and humidity rises drying plants will absorb water from the air. After several nights of this, plant material begins to deteriorate: color, scent, and other properties fade. To prevent this, plants must be dried quickly.

Electric dehydrators are useful in humid environments but they aren’t necessary. Look for four elements when identifying a place to dry plants without electricity: warmth, regular airflow, humidity, and protection from light.  Plant materials should be tied and hung or laid out in one layer on screens or other porous surface and placed in a dry, warm area that has airflow. Protecting plants from direct sunlight also helps preserve oils, vitamins, and other phytonutrients.

Dehydrating elder flowers in the spring.

To decrease the drying time, plants can be garbled or hand-cleaned; stems and yellowed or damaged leaves are removed, and roots are sliced thin. Plants will dry faster if leaves are removed from the stems, because the stems hold on to water and redistribute to the leaves when they start to dry out. Leaves should be left whole so some of the volatile oils and other delicate constituents are retained. Berries and roots take longer to dry. Most plants dry in a day or two.

If  you are interested in building your own dehydrator, please feel free to contact us for ideas.