How to Preserve Your Garden Herbs
Follow these simple steps for making your herb garden last.
The quickest and easiest way to store herbs is by drying. Store dried herbs in glass jars. You'll have an impressive spice collection in no time.
If your herb plants are producing too quickly for you to keep up with the fresh harvest, you've got another option than watching them wither on the vine: dry them! Air-drying herbs is easy and inexpensive, but you can also dry herbs in a food dehydrator or right in your oven.
How to Preserve Herbs
1. Decide on a Method
Air-drying works best for low-moisture herbs like marjoram, oregano, rosemary and dill. Herbs like basil, chives and mint contain more moisture and it's best to dry them in a dehydrator or oven.
2. Harvest Herbs
An herb's flavor is most pronounced just before the plant begins to flower. You can prolong the harvest by snipping off the flower buds whenever they appear. The essential oils are concentrated in the leaves in early morning, before the sun causes them to be released into the air.
Early morning is, therefore, the best time to harvest. Cut healthy herbs, removing any sickly, dried or wilted leaves and brushing away insects. If you must rinse the herbs, pat dry carefully afterward.
Snip individual leaves or cut an entire shoot just above a leaf node (this will encourage dormant buds to grow at the nodes for a bushier plant). Harvest the seeds of dill, fennel, and coriander when the flower heads have faded and started to dry. Clip the flower heads and place them in paper bags, then shake the heads to dislodge the seeds. Store seeds in an airtight container.
Three Ways to Preserve Herbs
1. To Air-Dry:
- Gather 5-10 branches together and tie with string or a rubber band. The smaller the bundle, the easier and faster they will dry.
- Put the bundle of herbs, stem-side up, in a paper bag. Tie the end of the bag closed, being sure not to crush the herbs as you do, and poke a few holes in the bag for ventilation.
- Hang the bag by the stem end in a warm, well-ventilated room.
Your herbs may be dried and ready to store in as little as one week.
2. To Oven-Dry:
- Place herb leaves or seeds on a cookie sheet one inch deep or less.
- Put herbs in an open oven on low heat – less than 180 degrees F – for 2-4 hours. To see if the herbs are dry, check if leaves crumble easily. Oven-dried herbs will cook a little, removing some of the potency and flavor, so you may need to use a little more of them in cooking.
With both methods, you'll know the herbs are dry when leaves crumble easily. Store in labeled, dated airtight containers like canning jars, plastic storage containers or freezer storage bags. For best flavor, keep the leaves whole until you are ready to use them, then crush. Dried herbs are best used within a year.
3. To Freeze:
Some herbs keep their flavor best when frozen. These include basil, chives, chervil, dill, lemon balm, mints, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, French tarragon, thyme, and lemon verbena. Wash them thoroughly and shake or pat off the excess water. Place individual leaves or chopped leaves in freezer bags. Flatten the bags to remove air. Dill, sage, rosemary, and thyme also freeze well on the stalks, which you can add frozen to cooking pots and remove before serving. You can also puree herbs with a small amount of water and freeze the paste in small zippered freezer bags, then break off frozen pieces as you need them. Combine herbs that are good culinary companions, such as sage and thyme, mix with a little olive oil, and seal the paste in freezer bags. Or pour the mixture into ice cube trays; once frozen, remove and store in freezer bags and thaw individual cubes as needed.