Don’t let your home-grown herbs go to waste. Learn how to preserve fresh herbs with these simple strategies.
Many herbs dry easily for use as cooking spices. Store fully dried herbs whole to retain best flavor.
Photo by iStock
Herbs are amazing garden crops. Expensive to buy but cheap and easy to grow, herbs are useful in just about any dish, provide a huge array of health benefits and can be preserved in numerous ways. Use our tips to keep your homegrown herbs on hand all year.
The longer after their peak you wait to harvest most herbs, the less flavor they will have. The right time
varies by plant part.
Foliage: Pick when plant is beginning to form buds.
Flowers: Pick when blooms are newly opened.
All parts: Pick in the morning on a sunny day when plants have dried but before the hottest part of the day, which can affect the plants’ essential oil concentrations.
• Best for quick-drying, tougher herbs such as mints (except apple mint), rosemary, thyme and sage
• Use rubber bands to secure 12 to 15 stems into a bundle.
• Hang in a cool, airy room away from direct sunlight.
• If it’s humid, finish in oven on lowest heat or with just the oven light on.
• Once totally dry, strip leaves from stems, keeping leaves as whole as possible, and store in a jar with a lid.
• Best for small or delicate herbs such as lovage, parsley and basil (herbs that typically “don’t dry well”)
• Use old window screens or muslin over a picture frame.
• Put herbs in a cool, shady place until dry, about a week.
• Turn after a few days so they dry evenly. This is easier if you put herbs between two screens on top and bottom.
• Use sturdy herbs such as rosemary, lemon thyme, savory, oregano and marjoram; fragile herbs don’t
• Spread herbs on cookie sheet; cover with salt; add another layer of herbs and salt.
• Completely dry either sitting out for about a week in a cool, dark place or in the oven on low or with the light on; then pour everything into a food processor or blender to combine and store in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
Some nice blends to try: Parsley, thyme and lemon zest; garlic, rosemary and sage; savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme and oregano (herbes de Provence)
• 1 cup sugar + 2 tablespoons dried herb or 4 tablespoons fresh herb
• Wrap herb(s) in cheesecloth or a cloth tea bag and set it on top of sugar in a wide-mouth canning jar. Shake. Let sit for four weeks, shaking every few days.
A few use suggestions
To make cookies: Lavender, peppermint, spearmint, ginger, lemon balm, hibiscus, clove
For teas: Spearmint, ginger, cinnamon, lemon balm
For cocktails: Peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, lemon verbena, ginger, lavender, hibiscus, lemongrass
Freeze Alone or with Other Foods
• Herbs lose texture when frozen; however, these herbs are fine in cooked dishes or blended into sauces after being frozen: chives, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, tarragon.
• Preseason veggies or other foods you’re freezing: Add rosemary sprigs to corn packets; chopped dill to broccoli or peas; marjoram and oregano to squash.
• Make simple freezable recipes: tomato and herb sauce; everything in pesto except dairy; veggie and herb stock.
• Get a jump on holiday stuffing: Chop onions and celery; add parsley, sage, marjoram, savory and thyme; and freeze. Thaw and add to bread crumbs when it’s time to stuff the turkey.
Herbal Ice Cubes
• Spin herbs in the blender, put in ice-cube trays, cover with water, then freeze (great for a mix of herbs).
• Spin herbs in the blender and add to olive oil or other favorite cooking oil and freeze in ice-cube trays.
• Freeze mint or lemon balm leaves with edible flowers such as violet or calendula with water for decorative ice cubes for punch bowls or cocktails.
• Great for herbs that don’t dry well such as chervil and salad burnet
• Use quality 5 percent acidity cider, rice or wine vinegars. Do not use white vinegar.
• Steep in jars that have been sterilized for 10 minutes; use noncorroding caps.
• Fill clean glass jars 3/4 full with herbs. Add vinegar to cover. Infuse for three to four weeks in a cool, dark cupboard, shaking occasionally.
• When herbal flavor has developed, strain through coffee filters until clear. Pour into bottles and cap.
Herbal Culinary Oils
• DO NOT add fresh herbs to oil unless you refrigerate them and use within five days. Using fresh herbs can lead to the growth of bacteria and is potentially dangerous.
• Pour 2 1/2 cups olive, sunflower or other culinary oil into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add 1 teaspoon peppercorns and 6 to 8 sprigs dried herbs. Warm over medium heat until bubbles appear around edges. Remove from heat and cool. Funnel oil and seasoning into sterilized bottles, seal and label. Keep oils in a cool place for two months.
Learn more about preserving food in our End-of-Summer Food Preservation Guide.
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