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.
Harvesting Tips: Success Begins in the Garden
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.
Salts & Sugars
• 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.
Culinary Oils & Vinegars
• 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.