Winter is coming….every morning feels colder and colder. Almost everything in the garden has been harvested. Other than a few carrots, all that remains are the herbs. I use a lot of them fresh during the summer, but early fall is the time to harvest the leftovers to enjoy all winter long! Preserving herbs is really easy. You want to harvest the herbs early in the morning when their essential flavor oils are at their highest. Try to get to them before the dew has dried. It’s also best to get them before you get your first frost of the season.
Drying is an easy way to preserve herbs. Tie them into bundles and hang the bundles upside down in a room away from direct light. Once the bundles are dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store them in an airtight container. It should take 1-2 weeks for the bundles to dry out depending on how humid it is. To preserve the herb’s flavors, it’s best to store the leaves whole and not crush them until you are ready to use them. Herbs that are good candidates for drying include basil, calendula, dill, fennel, lavender, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage & thyme.
Freezing is a great way to preserve the oils in the herbs that give them their flavors. Wash the leaves and put them on a rack to dry. Herbs that are good for freezing include basil (it will discolor, but will taste fine), cilantro, chives, dill, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon & thyme. For freezing you have a couple of options:
- Pull the leaves off the stems and put them in a freezer bag. They will clump together with this method, and you just chop off what you need. This super fast option is great for herbs you would normally chop like oregano
- Pull the leaves off the stems and put them in a single layer on a tray. Put the tray in the freezer for a couple of hours. Once frozen, put the leaves in an airtight freezer container and store them in the freezer. This freezes the leaves individually so you can just pull out one leaf as needed.
- Pull the leaves off the stems. Crush or chop and put them in an ice cube tray. Fill each hole with 1 tablespoon of crushed herbs and top off with olive oil (or water). Freeze the herb cubes completely and put them in an airtight freezer container. This is great for sautéing with or tossing a couple of cubes into soups or sauces. You can also try freezing different herbs together for custom seasoning!
Another fun & easy way to preserve herbs is to make custom herbal vinegars. Use a glass bottle with either a cork or plastic top (you don’t want to use metal with vinegar). For every 1 cup of vinegar, add 3-5 sprigs of herbs.
Fill the bottle with vinegar. Wash & let herbs completely dry, then add them to the bottle. Store the vinegar in a dark cabinet, shaking it every once in awhile for about 4 weeks. Use the flavored vinegar in salad dressings, marinades, or in any recipe calling for vinegar. The fun part is experimenting with different flavors! Popular herbs to try include basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, lemon balm and tarragon. Pair them with plain white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar. You can also try adding peeled garlic cloves or chopped peppers.
What’s your favorite way to preserve fresh herbs?