Herbs are invaluable to tasty dishes. Homegrown herbs are much more flavorful and aromatic than store-bought herbs. In fact, they are sometimes 3 to 4 times stronger than store-bought herbs. Check out my 6 ways to preserve herbs below. If you are just starting out herb gardening, check out my “Brown Thumb’s Guide for Starting an Herb Garden“
Not only will you save money on not buying herbs, when you grow them yourself, but you can use less in your cooking because they’re much more powerful. Use about a 1/4 of the amount a recipe calls for instead. If you want to grow herbs you need to understand how to preserve them. Preserving herbs is a pretty easy task.
Not all herbs can be preserved the same way. Some methods will work for one herb, while it won’t work for another.
How to Preserve Herbs Properly
First, start by cutting a couple of healthy stems just above a leaf or pair of leaves., if your plant is large enough. Leave 4-6 inches to leave room for more growth. If your plant is small you can sustainably harvest 1 or 2 leaves off of each stem, instead of cutting long stems.
- Shake off the bugs, if there are any.
- Rinse in cool water.
- Dry them thoroughly using a salad spinner. Make sure to rinse them a few times to dispel any bugs or dirt.
- Remove any wilted or spotty leaves.
- Choose your preservation method below.
6 Ways To Preserve Herbs
1. Bundle Air Drying
Organize the stem ends together. Using twine, tie the herbs together, and hang them up for 1-2 weeks.
Alternatively, you can buy a rack to hold several bundles at a time, using something like this.
Or you can put the bundle in a paper sack, with holes cut into it. The paper sack is good when you are worried about leaves falling off the bundle.
Herbs that can be bundle air-dried: Rosemary, lavender, dill, summer savory, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and oregano. Herbs with higher moisture content can be hung to dry in smaller bundles, these would include, basil, oregano, tarragon, and lemon balm.
2. Air Drying
This is one of the easiest ways to dry herbs. Grab a sheet pan. LIne it with paper towels, and then place the herbs on top. You can repeat these layers up to 5 times. If the paper towels get damp, change them as necessary. This is typical of the first day since we rinsed them in cool water. After the first day, the paper towel usually stays pretty dry.
Allow to air dry for several days, until all herbs are crispy and fully dry.
Herbs that can be air-dried: Rosemary, lavender, dill, summer savory, sage, thyme, bay leaves, and oregano, basil, oregano, and mint.
Alternatively to using all of your sheet pans, you can buy an herb drying rack. These come in all shapes and sizes, plus you won’t have to use all of your sheet pans, and it won’t take up any extra counter space!
That’s exactly why I bought one of these. I dry so many herbs at a time, and I needed a better way to air dry them.
3. Oven Drying
Set the oven to the lowest setting. Place the herbs, flat on a cookie sheet in one layer, and place in the middle rack of the oven for 2-3 hours.
Herbs are good for oven drying: Mint, basil, tarragon, and lemon balm.
A dehydrator can dry most herbs in 3-4 hours. It’s definitely a quicker way to get your herbs dry! My dehydrator is great, however, I wish it was bigger. I can dehydrate so much more with air drying. I still use my dehydrator to make fruit rolls, and other stuff though.
Herbs good for dehydrator drying: Mint, Rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage, dill, oregano, basil, tarragon, and lemon balm.
Freezing Herbs For Preservation
5. Herb Infused Oil Ice Cubes
Tender leaves are best for making these action-packed ice cubes. These cubes can be thrown into soups, stews, pasta, marinara, casseroles, eggs, frittata, and many more.
Frozen Herb Infused Olive oil: Finely chop up herbs that you would like to use (about 1/4 cup,) and about 1/2 cup olive oil. Fill the trays and pop into the freezer for a spell. Once they are frozen, you can pop them out of the ice cubes trays, and place them in a plastic zip bag.
Tender herbs great to use for herbal ice cubes include: basil, dill, cilantro, tarragon, and oregano.
6. Frozen Herb Cubes (nothing added)
Remove herbs from stems. Place the leaves in an ice cube tray and freeze.
When you’re ready to use them, simply pop them out and throw them in the pan to add some flavor to your dish!
7. Frozen Herb Butter
These are perfect for sautéing vegetables!
To make these, melt a stick or two of butter. Mince the herbs if necessary, and add about a teaspoon or two to each ice cube tray. Next, pour the butter over the herbs and freeze!
To use, just throw them in a skillet just as you would butter!
8. Freezing Herbs In Bulk
In a single layer lay individual leaves on a cookie sheet. When frozen place them in a plastic zip bag and place back into the freezer.
These herbs do well for freezing: basil, chives, dill, lemongrass, mint, oregano, sage, savory, tarragon, thyme.
9. Homemade Herbal Simple Syrups
Here’s a new favorite way to preserve herbs! The Rootsy Network has a wonderful post on how to make a simple syrup with mint, rosemary, and lavender! These sound absolutely amazing. These are simple to make, plus you only need about 3 ingredients! Check out Homemade Simple Syrups With Herbs.
How Do I Know When The Herbs Are Completely Dry?
You’ll know they are done drying when the leaves are no longer soft to the touch and are crisp. Make sure they are fully dry before storing them.
If you store too soon, they could mold due to having moisture still in them. If you are ever in doubt, you can always give them another day or two of drying time.
How to Properly Store Preserved Herbs
Remove the herbs from the stems before storing them. Or if you don’t have time, you can also store them with the stems still on. I don’t always have the time to de-stem them right away. So I’ll store them with the stems for a while. You can always de-stem the later or right before cooking.
Herbs that are still on the stem can take up a lot of room. I typically will store these in an old coffee can. They are usually the perfect size for this kind of project. Don’t forget to add a desiccant pack!
It’s best to store herbs in an airtight container. If you live in a hot climate like me, it’s best to add a desiccant pack too! I suggest these desiccant packs because they are rechargeable.
It’s important to store herbs away from light. The light can decrease the flavor and effectiveness of herbs. You can also purchase amber-colored jars to help keep the light out…
I bought some pretty jars from Hobby Lobby. They have a wonderful selection of jars in all sizes. You can also find all kinds of jars on Amazon too. Check out a few of them below.
What To Do With The Stems?
Once you’re done with the stems, you can stuff them into an old coffee can. As long as they have been dried of course. Now why would you want to do that?
It might seem silly, but I like to keep these stems until springtime. I save a large onion bag too. In the springtime, when I know the birds will be looking for twigs, I place the stems in the onion bag, and hang it up outside. So all the little birds can have at it!
Tips and Tricks For Preserving Herbs
- Add herbs to soups, in the last 30 minutes of cooking, to preserve more of the flavor.
- Don’t use the sun to dry the herbs, low and slow is the goal of preserving the powerful oils, flavors, and aroma! The sun is far too powerful to dry them low and slow.
- The best time to harvest is in the morning, but after the dew has gone.
- Harvest herbs just before the flowers first open.
- Use frozen herbs just as you would use fresh herbs.
- If you live in a location with high humidity, it is better to dry individual leaves instead of the entire stem.
- Air movement is important when drying herbs, that is one reason why dehydrators are so popular for drying herbs.
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