Picking, Drying & Freezing: How to Preserve Summer’s Herbs

Written by Shannon of Nourishing Days.

I learned to cook as a newlywed. Fresh out of college and working part-time, I spent hours in the kitchen, checked nearly every cookbook out of the library, and watched a bit too much of the Food network.

Through reading all of those cookbooks and listening to the professional chefs I learned how an herb or spice can make or break a dish. But unlike spices, herbs are fairly common at the local market and have found a large space in my backyard garden. Plus most culinary herbs have a lot of medicinal properties.

Most of us don’t live in the south of France, however, and need to preserve these herbs for winter if we’re going to pursue sustainable eating. I’m not an expert, but I have found that certain techniques can put the fresh taste of summer into an otherwise bleak January meal.

When To Pick

If you are growing the herbs yourself you’ll be the one picking them. Most of the experts say to pick just before or at the beginning of flowering. This is when the flavorful oils are at their peak.

Choose A Preservation Method

It helps to think of herbs as any other leafy green. Just as spinach, kale, and collards have distinct attributes, some herbs are light and fresh while others are deep and earthy. These differences call for different preservation methods, each enhancing the herb’s unique characteristics.

Some herbs, like mint, have different but equally delicious properties whether dried or frozen.Β  Let’s look at both of these methods below.

Drying

Drying is best suited to hardier herbs that you might add at the beginning of cooking such as:

  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Mint

Drying herbs can be as simple as cutting, making small bundles tied with string, and hanging upside down in a dark, cool, dry place. Or if you own a dehydrator set it to the lowest setting (no more than 95 degrees), and let it run until the herbs are completely dried.

Tips:

  • Small leaves like thyme and oregano can be left on the stem and removed once dry.
  • To remove leaves, pinch the stem and run your fingers from stem to tip.
  • Store in jars in a cool, dark place.

Freezing

Freezing works well for lighter tasting herbs that you might use at the end of a dish to perk it up such as:

  • Basil
  • Parsley
  • Cilantro
  • Chives
  • Mint

There are lots of complicated ways to freeze herbs involving food processors, oil, and lots of clean up. Honestly, though, when I have a lot of produce to preserve I need to keep things simple: I throw leaves on a sheet pan, flash freeze, and then transfer to a marked freezable container.

Tips:

  • Make sure your herbs are dry before freezing.
  • Don’t place cilantro and basil in the same bag – the flavors mingle too much.
  • Keep it simple: take a bunch of herbs, toss them in a labeled brown bag and place them in the freezer.
  • Kids can help take the leaves off of the stems!

Making Pestos

Any herb could be used for pesto, but when using an earthier herb like oregano, it’s nice to pair it with a lighter herb like parsley or cilantro.

You can preserve pesto by freezing, but I prefer the old fashioned method of leaving a layer of olive oil over the top and placing in the refrigerator. Like duck confit, the layer of fat preserves the pesto underneath by keeping bacteria and air out. I have stored a jar of pesto in the refrigerator for months by replacing the olive oil after every use. So simple.

Recipes:

As I pulled the last remaining bit ofΒ  herbs out of the freezer the other night, I realized that of all the splendid summer produce, the one food we had preserved enough of to last the whole year was basil.

It put a smile on my face. And that, my friends, has increased my enthusiasm for preserving herbs this summer.

Are you busy preserving herbs and if so, how?

About Shannon

Real food, sustainability, and homesteading are inextricably intertwined on the off-grid homestead Shannon, her husband and three children inhabit. She shares the insanely beautiful and shatteringly hard of it all on her blog Nourishing Days. She also works as a content writer and blog editor for Cultures for Health.

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Comments

  1. This was just what I needed today. I have been wondering what the best way to preserve herbs was and need to get busy!

  2. I think I’m going to try and freeze my Italian basil and my Cotton Candy mint. I don’t make pesto (we’re not fans) or use enough flavoured oil to justify the work of making it. But flash freezing the leaves for use at the end of something like pasta sauce or a stir fry makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

  3. This is perfect timing! I was just thinking about how I need to preserve some of my herbs. And I would have dried the basil, but now I’ll be putting it in the freezer.
    Kaytee’s last post: Tomatoes!

  4. Thank you for the tip on how to keep pesto in the fridge!

    BTW another way of drying herbs that I just successfully used the other day was using a hot car. I left cookie sheets of herbs in my car in my work parking lot and by noon they were already bone dry.

  5. Laryssa @ Heaven In The Home says:

    This was perfect timing…I just picked a bunch of Basil from the garden!

  6. Thanks for this very informative post on preserving our precious summer herbs. I need to do this with a basil plant that is thriving and under used. Great pesto recipes too!
    Here is my recipe for this weeks Summer Fest, I highlighted Basil:
    Grilled Cheese Bruschetta
    http://www.familyfreshcooking.com/2010/08/10/mozzarella-basil-tomato-grilled-cheese-bruschetta/

  7. I love this post! I have a lot of herbs growing outside and want to make sure they keep over the winter. It’s so nice not to have to worry about going to the store.

  8. Great info in this post! I have to say that I’ve been really disappointed in my herb garden this year. It just isn’t as strong as other years have been. We had a slow start to warm weather this year and then all of the sudden it was full on summer. It just got too hot too fast while plants were still too small. I’m kind of tempted to buy one of those aero garden things. Has anyone used one of those?
    Katie @ goodLife {eats}’s last post: Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

    • Haven’t tried the aero garden, Katie. Here’s hoping for a better year for herbs next summer for you…

      • Valerie says:

        Holy moly, Aerogardens work really well! So well, in fact, that I wasn’t ready for the explosion of herbs. After reading this post, I know what to do with them all.

  9. Thanks for the info. A very informative post. Sometimes I like to throw fresh herbs in ice cubes trays to freeze them easily and use them as part of my bouillons later on. The flash freeze tip is great. Thanks for sharing.
    Trish’s last post: Chocolate Fig Smoothie

  10. This might be a stupid question, but how do you flash freeze?

  11. What about dill? I love fresh dill, but I’m not too crazy about dried dill. Can I freeze fresh dill, and will it taste fresh when I use it later?

    • My mom froze dill last summer and gave me some and it worked really well. I enjoyed it so much during the winter!!! I am a huge dill fan!

  12. This looks really useful and so helpful to preserve summer– and thanks for stopping by my blog to add this to the Summer Fest party! My addition this week was this Wax and Butter Bean Herbed Salad:
    http://www.thewrightrecipes.com/savory/summer-fest-herbs-greens-beans

    Can’t wait to see what you cook up next week for stone fruit!

  13. I too am wondering about the “flash freeze.” I don’t get exactly what that is? And why do you need to do it? Would it work just to put the herbs, like basil, in a container and stick it in the freezer?

  14. Thanks for the info! I’m just learning how to store my medicinal herbs, comfrey, yarrow, and skullcap. I’ve never tried keeping them for use through the winter, so I’m planning to dry what’s left at the end of the summer. I know you’re supposed to pick as it’s beginning to flower, but I like to pick and use them fresh if possible and I don’t know what I’ll need before it’s fall, so I’ve decided to wait on the drying. But, wow! August is already half way over and drying time is almost here!
    Naomi’s last post: Free Range Children

  15. This is very helpful and timely — I have some basil and sage that I’d like to preserve!
    Julie @ Willow Bird Baking’s last post: Summer Strawberry Sour Cream Pie

  16. I’m an avid fan of dried herbs, but never tried freezing them before. I’m very willing to try, however, because I hope it will preserve the flavor better than with drying.
    Alison @ Femita’s last post: Culinary Herbs For Dummies- A Guide On How To Use Fresh Herbs In Your Cooking Part 2

  17. I live in Ontario where the growing season is quite short but have a beautiful herb garden which I adore! It looks great, adds so much to my recipes and yes….has even been used for medicinal purposes! I’ve tried freezing and drying my herbs. Here in Ontario, our summers are humid so drying naturally has not worked. Although preserving my herbs is great, there’s nothing better than strolling out to my garden to pick fresh herbs for a delicious dish.
    Denise’s last post: Excalibur Dehydrator 3926T ~ "Top Of The Line Exclusive Model" updated Mon …

  18. Can I freeze Comfrey?

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