How to Preserve Your Herbs

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.

How to Preserve Herbs | Foodal

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.

Harvesting

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 of the can be composted.

All herbs, cut for drying should be snipped so that they are left with long stems.

Harvesting Herbs | Foodal

Cleaning

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

Hanging

Herbs hung out to dry | Foodal
Lavender is one of many fresh garden flowers that dries beautifully.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Label and date your jar so you know what it is. Dried specimens can be stored for up to a year.

Freezing

Freezing herbs in ice cube tray | Foodal

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.

  1. Once you have decided which types you will be freezing, the first step is to wash and dry them.
  2. Next, strip the leaves off and place them into a freezer bag or container.
  3. Label and date the containers so you can remember what’s what. (Frozen cuttings should keep for 3 months).
  4. 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.
  5. 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).

Mint leaves inside of ice cubes | Foodal

Steeping

Another long term approach to preservation is to steep the plants. After harvesting and cleaning, follow the next steps:

  1. Picked and clean your selected varieties.
  2. You have the option to leave the leaves attached to the stem or remove them to add them separately.
  3. 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.
  4. Be sure to store in a cool or refrigerated place, especially during warmer months. Use within 6 months.

Drying Herbs

Drying is another easy way to preserve them for cooking.

  1. 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.
  2. Next, snip washed leaves off the stem and arrange the cuttings in rows on one side of the towel.
  3. Lay another paper towel on top. (folded in half over the leaves).
  4. Add another layer of leaves and bring half of first 2 towel layers to cover.
  5. 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.
  6. Once they are dry, they can be placed in a Ziplock bag, jar, or container and kept for up to a year.
  7. For an easy method of dispensing your favorite homegrown spices, try this homemade mason jar dispenser from DYI Ideas.

Sources:

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/

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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!

19 thoughts on “How to Preserve Your Herbs

  1. Thanks for posting this, I learnt a couple of new methods that I will surely try!

    Usually I stick with using freshly plucked herbs in my cooking, as the weather where I live is too humid to dry them well. The freezer method seems like a viable technique for any climate though, this is a great way to have herbs ready for any season!

  2. Perfect timing! I’m just about to do my fall garden clean-up, and I have basil, rosemary, and oregano that need trimming back. Thanks for reminding me not to just stuff the clippings into the compost bin.

    I was wondering: are there some herbs that work better dried than frozen? Or should I just choose the method that works best for the way I’ll use them later?

  3. Thanks for posting this article. I’ve heard about freezing herbs to keep them, but I’ve never done it before. It really is a great idea. I didn’t know that they would freeze for a year. I guess since they are frozen it wouldn’t make much of a difference. I really like the ice cube method. That seems like it would be the easiest to use for future use. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Would freezing also work for herbs bought from the grocery store? I always buy parsley and basil in bunches but rarely use it all before it goes bad.

  5. I love fresh herbs and sometimes the dried version just doesn’t compare in terms of taste, particularly when bought from the store. I haven’t tried drying my own yet, as I haven’t had a very good crop on my garden herbs in the last few years. I have frozen herbs, though, immersed in a little water, and that works great because you just put the herb cubes straight from the freezer into whatever you’re cooking and stir through until it’s metled. I’ve even frozen mixes of herbs this way, when I’ve chopped them for a recipe but not needed the whole batch.

    Meteredlines – the freezer method does work on store bought herbs, though I find you have to pick through the bunch carefully and pull out any leaves/sprigs that are bad quality.

  6. I tried the ice cube trick last night and it worked well. Not as pretty as your photo though. I’m glad I got to freeze them before they went bad. Thanks for the tip!

  7. I have some herbs in the garden. I think I’ll try the freezing method with my dill and see how it goes. I tried to have a drying rack once, but bird, mice and other small animals got to it first. The ice cube method seems to be more convenient for me. Thanks for the post.

  8. I love the ice cube method – that would be so handy to have ready when you’re cooking something and want to quickly add flavor. I usually dry some of my herbs in the dehydrator, but dried herbs are far more pungent in cooking than fresh, hence the frozen ones being a better option for quick meals as dried herbs are better in slow cooked dishes.

    This has inspired me to get freezing some of my herbs that need cutting.

  9. The ice cube method is amazing! My sister and I tried this new method and loved it, when taking it out of the freezer they looked very cool and unique. When I usually preserve my herbs they turn out ok but this way keeps them fresher a lot longer. Discovering this makes me want to try to see if any other methods/ recipes would work some other foods Thanks!

  10. I’m glad I read this, as I had no idea of ways to preserve herbs, other than hang drying. My favorite is the ice cube method, and I think I might try this with mint, for iced tea and other hot and cold beverages. It’s pretty humid where I live, so I’ll have to investigate the other methods, but my eyes have been opened to the possibilities.

  11. I read your other article about herb oil and was kind of stumped because of the chance of food poisoning. But finding this one was super helpful because now I have many more options. I think the ice cube tray is a great method of preserving herbs and it is definitely going to be one of the ways I am going to preserve my herbs this fall. Would this method work with spearmint, too? Thank you!

  12. I think it’s really important to harvest herbs at the right time, otherwise you’re going to lose out on “life expectancy”. I never really considered steeping them, but it may actually be a good idea depending on the plant. I mostly just leave them hanging in a cold room.

  13. This article will be very useful for me. We grow mint in our yard all summer and fall, and I love using it to make tea. However, I never had any idea how to preserve it so that I could use it during the winter and early spring as well as when it’s in full swing. Thank you for these detailed methods. I plan on trying both the drying and the freezing soon.

  14. I never knew that there are more ways to preserve herbs than just drying them out. I feel silly now.
    I really like freezing and steeping. Leaving them to hang seems too inconvenient – I have no idea where they could be safe from people throwing them down!

  15. Why didn’t I find this post sooner! It could of saved me a LOT of grief and hassle!

    I remember one time cooking a curry that contained a myriad of herbs and spices that formed most of the sustenance of the flavor. Instead of going to the supermarket and buying the herbs fresh, I thought I should use the ones I’ve kept in the plastic bags in the back of the pantry. “It will be fine,” I remember reassuring myself.

    It wasn’t The curry had that definite “off” taste to it, so I ended up scrapping the meal and having to face the embarrassment of serving a ready meal at a house party. Being such a fan of herbs and spices, and their health benefits, I wanted to share their lovely taste and effects.

    Oh well…

  16. I preserve my own herbs from time to time but it’s mostly just lavender. I grow lavender like it’s nobody’s business and there’s a bunch of it in almost every room of the house. I also have a potted lavender plant growing in my restroom for added freshness. The only method I use to dry them would be the hanging method. I live in Texas so it’s really easy to find a nice dry and warm space for them to chill out until they lose moisture. I might start using the ice cube method for things that take longer to dry. Rosemary is notorious for taking a long time to dry in my house. If I end up freezing anything it’ll probably be that.

  17. This spring we will be growing a lot of herbs (I hope) and I love using them fresh from the garden. I always miss fresh herbs in winter and usually buy dried herbs in the shop. I will try drying my herbs by hanging them upside down. I didn’t know you could freeze them, this is a great tip! A few mint leaves in an ice cube will be great for my drink on a hot summer day 🙂

  18. I have a big garden and every year I grow several plants of basil, parsley, oregano, rosemary and mint. I love their flavor, they add that little something missing in a recipe. I’ve always dried mine to preserve them but I feel like they tend to lose some of their flavor so I’ve been looking for different methods to preserve them. I like the idea of freezing them and the ice tray trick is brilliant, I’ll definitely do it next fall. I’ll also steep some of them, I think they will mantain their properties and they will make a nice decoration on my kitchen counter. Thank you for sharing those great tips with us!

  19. Very nice article, I never thought about actually making ice cubs out of them. How easy to then just toss the ice cub into your tomato sauce! I have tried dry hanging without much success, it is too hot where I live and if I keep them indoors they grow fungus, very humid environment. Plus the ice cubes are such a novel idea.

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