How to Preserve Fresh Herbs

Don’t let your home-grown herbs go to waste. Learn how to preserve fresh herbs with these simple strategies.

| September/October 2014

  • 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.

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.

Drying Herbs

Bundling Herbs
• 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.

Screen-Drying Herbs
• 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

Culinary Salts
• Use sturdy herbs such as rosemary, lemon thyme, savory, oregano and marjoram; fragile herbs don’t
work well.

• 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)

Herb Sugars
• 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

Freezing Herbs

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

Herb 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.

10/9/2015 12:50:56 PM

Tried everything to preserve basil. Last year almost none made it except what I had made into pesto and frozen. It was excellent through the winter. This year, I tried dehydrating in a professional dryer and had a decent yield that did not turn black. I pulled leaves from the stem and it took 3 days. Basil is challenging. Have frozen in ice cube trays with olive oil as JulieB said. Midwest here too, thyme I trim all through the season and just lay loosely on a screen to dry. Lavender we harvest as it blooms in the early summer-no experience with trying it now w/out flowers. Calendula on screens, sage/Melissa/anise hyssop tied in bunches out of the sun in a dry place. If space is limited old fashioned folding men's tie racks works well for tied bunches.

10/7/2015 9:50:31 AM

In the past, as soon as I picked basil from my garden, it would turn black. But, I never figured out why. I am container gardening this year and the basil is good when dried. However, I decided to put some in olive oil to make flavored oil, and it turned black. Not sure if oil is spoiled now. Also, wish I had read about the parsley sooner. It's in bundles hanging in my pantry. Hopefully, I can find some screen in the shed. And, I just clipped some thyme and am hanging it. What about lavender leaves and stems? I don't have any flowers on my plant and wondering if I can still dry the leaves. BTW, perfect timing for this article as the midwest is starting to chill.

8/25/2014 6:01:29 PM

@JulieB Do you dry them in a cool and dark place? I can't imagine why they would turn black, but that's how we dry ours and they come out fine.



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