Although fresh herbs are the best for flavor and health benefits, they aren’t always readily available do to the changing of the seasons. Garden herbs can be preserved in a variety of different ways.
This guide will help teach you everything you need to know to preserve your own at the end of the gardening season.
The method that you use to preserve your aromatic plants will depend on what type you are trying to preserve, what you plan on using them for, and also on personal preference.
The first step in preserving your aromatics from your garden is to harvest them when they are ready. This can be done by using scissors, pruning sheers, or a strong kitchen knife, to snip the stems.
If the plant is able to survive winter, you will want to cut the stems at the base of the plant. Other varieties can be entirely pulled out. Roots and other parts can be composted.
All herbs, cut for drying should be snipped so that they are left with long stems.
Once you have harvested all of your plants properly, the next step in the preservation process is cleaning.
All dirty plants and produce should be washed carefully, remember to be gentle, you don’t want to damage the leafy parts during this process.
The best way to wash the plants is to gently spray them with a fine mist sprayer and then wipe them dry (washing them any other way can cause mildew).
To dry, pat them with a paper towel and shake them lightly until they are completely dry.
Methods for Preserving Herbs
One method for preserving the plants is hanging. Hanging herbs does not require much effort and is an easy and fairly quick way to allow the foliage to dry out, so you can preserve them.
In order to properly hang to to dry, follow the next few steps carefully:
- Remove lower leaves from stems and tie bunches together, close to the top of the stems. Try not to include more than 5 or 10 stems to a bunch, this will allow proper ventilation which is ideal for drying.
- Find a dry, warm (not humid), dark, and well ventilated place. The ideal temperature you want to aim for is 68 degrees Fahrenheit/20 degrees Celsius.
- Leave the cuttings out to dry for 1 to 3 weeks. Check them every now and then to see how they are doing. Keep in mind that thicker stemmed varieties will take a bit longer to dry. Once the consistency of the foliage is crumbly they are ready to be taken down. You can see if they are crumbly by rubbing a single leaf between two of your fingers, if it crumbles then you know its ready.
- Next, remove the leaves and bottle them in an airtight jar. Be sure to remove any foreign materials like wood or fluff. It is up to you whether you want to keep the herbs whole, or crush them into a fine powder. It really just depends on what you plant on using them for – whole leaves are great for teas, garnishing, and soups, whereas powders work great for seasoning dishes. Seeds should be left whole and crushed only when needed for cooking.
- Label and date your jar so you know what it is. Dried specimens can be stored for up to a year.
Freezing is another easy way to preserve these aromatic plants, and is ideal because it makes cooking easy. Some types freeze better than others, so make sure to consider this before trying the process.
Some appropriate varieties for freezing include: basil, parsley, and tarragon.
- Once you have decided which types you will be freezing, the first step is to wash and dry them.
- Next, strip the leaves off and place them into a freezer bag or container.
- Label and date the containers so you can remember what’s what. (Frozen cuttings should keep for 3 months).
- Other helpful tips: If you want your frozen aromatics to last longer than 3 months, you can try blanching them for a few seconds and then dipping them straight into ice cold water immediately afterwards. Then pop them in the freezer in a freezer bag or container and store up to 6 months.
- My preferred method is to use ice cube trays and completely immerse the leaves in water and then freeze as they pop right out into pre-measured water soluble containers. These store for a year (or perhaps longer).
Another long term approach to preservation is to steep the plants, or infuse them in olive oil. For steeping, after harvesting and cleaning, follow the next steps:
- Picked and clean your selected varieties.
- You have the option to leave the leaves attached to the stem or remove them to add them separately.
- Using a bit of oil (olive oil works best), place your herbs inside an airtight jar or bottle alongside the oil. This method is an attractive and decorative option and will spruce up any kitchen space.
- Be sure to store in a cool or refrigerated place, especially during warmer months. Use within 6 months.
Drying is another easy way to preserve them for cooking.
- Once you have harvested and cleaned your fresh herbs you are going to want to lay some clean paper towels down on a counter top or table. Layer them in twos.
- Next, snip washed leaves off the stem and arrange the cuttings in rows on one side of the towel.
- Lay another paper towel on top. (folded in half over the leaves).
- Add another layer of leaves and bring half of first 2 towel layers to cover.
- Leave the towels and plant cuttings out to dry for 2-3 days. Keeping in mind that the thicker the leaves, the longer it will take for them to dry out. Again, you will know when your cuttings are ready by using the crumbling method. Alternatively a dehydrator can be used to speed up the process.
- Once they are dry, they can be placed in a Ziplock bag, jar, or container and kept for up to a year.
- For an easy method of dispensing your favorite homegrown spices, try this homemade mason jar dispenser from DYI Ideas.
For more about herbs and spices, be sure to check out our ultimate guide.
About Lynne Jaques
Lynne is a stay-at-home mother of two boys. As a former US military officer and the spouse of an active duty US military member, Lynne enjoys traveling the world (although not the moving part!) and finding new cuisine and methods of preparing food. She also has the habit of using parenthesis way too much!