Enjoying a big bounty of herbs from the garden this year? Fresh is best when it comes to cooking with them, but here are ten easy ways to preserve them for year-round use (along with a nifty tip at the bottom of the page for crushing them fast).
- Air/Hang Dry Method: If you have the space and the time, you can tie small bunches together (about 4 or 5 cleaned stems) and hang them upside down in a dark, warm, well ventilated area. The drying time is about 2 to 4 weeks – you want the leaves to be crispy and easily crumble between your fingers before you pack them for storage. If space is tight, here’s a clever project you can make using old frames, fiberglass screens, chain and S hooks (for hanging in tiers): Hanging Frames Tutorial.
- Oven: Arrange cleaned stems in a single layer on a cookie sheet with temperature set at 180° F. Heat for about 4 hours, keeping the oven door open the entire time (to let moisture escape). Stir occasionally during this process.
- Microwave Them: This a quick & easy method if you need them dried fast…but watch while you’re heating to make sure they don’t smoke or start on fire. Since microwaves cook differently, the times may vary for you. Detailed instructions are found at the bottom of this page.
- Cool Air: Wash then pat with a soft cloth to remove moisture. Layer a cookie sheet with paper towels and then arrange stems in a single layer. Place in the refrigerator and remove once they are completely dried (check daily). Does not work in crisper bins.
- Salt or Sugar: Layer fresh leaves between salt or sugar (covering completely) and leave them until they are desiccated. Sift them out and store in airtight containers. Choose salt or sugar depending on the flavor of the herb and which would be better suited to it.
- Ice Cubes: Chop then sprinkle into ice cube trays (measure into each cube the most common amount you use in cooking, for example 1 tsp). Cover with water and freeze (can also cover with stock or olive oil). Pop them out once they’re frozen and then re-pack in bags (remove as much air as possible from the bags first). When needed for cooking, just take out a cube and toss it in the dish that’s cooking (thawing first is optional–remember to account for the extra liquid in your recipe). Nifty trick: Try mixing your favorite blends first. You can view a tutorial here (thegardenerseden.com) using olive oil and/or melted butter instead of water.
- Freezing Whole & Chopped: Wash and dry the leaves then store in bags with as much air removed as possible (you can also lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet then pack in bags when frozen). Freeze. See a handy tip at the bottom of this page for crushing them quickly, you can also chop them first if you prefer.
- Bulk Pastes (Pesto): Wash clean then chop in a food processor, add enough oil to make a paste when blended (approximately 2 cups fresh herbs to 1/3 cup olive oil). Can be frozen in small containers (remove all air first by shaking and tapping the container then top with a fine layer of olive oil to seal paste against air). Thaw before using. Spoon out the required amount needed for cooking then store the rest in the refrigerator. The most common pesto is made from basil, but you can use others too (and combinations). You’ll find a few recipes on this page.
- Bulk Seasoning Salt: Have a ready supply of seasonings at your fingertips (create your own signature blend), whipping up batches only once a year and freezing until needed. Instructions found here: pinkbites.com.
- Bulk Butters: Chop leaves and mix with butter to taste. Can be frozen in single serving butter pats or in cube sizes appropriate for cooking (just add the butter pat while dish is cooking–remember to account for butter in recipe). Thaw before using. See this page for more details.
*First published December 19, 2006
Here’s a quick method to try if you need them fast…but watch to make sure they don’t smoke or start on fire. Keep in mind the times may vary for you.
- Wash them well, pat dry and lay aside for an hour. You want to make sure there is no moisture on them before starting.
- Place stems in a single layer on a paper towel, cover with another sheet of paper towel. Place in microwave and heat for 2 minutes on high. Turn paper towel and do another minute or reheat in 30 second intervals until they are dry and brittle.
- Pack in ziploc bags (remove all air) or airtight containers and store in a dark, dry place. Use as needed.
- Can be used for up to one year.
Important: If you notice any moisture in the airtight containers or sealed plastic bags after storing the dried herbs–this is a sign that moisture was still present when packed. Mold can develop because of the moisture, so make sure they are done thoroughly and have absolutely no moisture left in them.
- One teaspoon of dried herbs is equivalent to 1 tablespoon of fresh.
- If you prefer fresh over the long winter months, consider growing them indoors.
Here’s a kitchen tip Josee Meehan sent in to share with us all: *First published October 17, 2008
This from my husband (who is a chef): Herbs, like basil and oregano, can be quickly and easily crushed when frozen. The trick is to take them out of the freezer seconds before use, put your hand in the bag and crinkle them. No cutting required. The trick is in the timing. You can’t let them thaw out even a little.
Thanks for sharing Josee!
This was perfect timing for this article. Just made 4 ice trays of pesto and a pesto dish for dinner. I can’t keep making pesto I was wondering what else to do. Does anyone know a low cal pesto without the oil. I have SO MANY herbs in the yard I can’t believe it.
Save the sugar or salt if drying clean herbs that way. It can be used in seasonibng foods. Just make sure you have sweet/citrus herbs in the sugar-I don’t think oreganop flavored sugar tastes too good. 😀
I heard that freezing herbs such as basil, dill, is a good wayto go. any one know about this ?
I froze dill and parsley last year and it worked great! Wrapped it in waxed paper then put in freezer bag.
The ICE CUBE TRAY method works much better when you use just a coating of olive or grape seed oil. They don’t turn black, and you will be much happier with the results
thank you for the tips vey helpful for me
I have a food dehydrator (for making dried fruit and jerky). It works perfectly for drying my herbs. They are done in a few hours.
I grow and preserve quite a few herbs and really enjoy the experience. Over the past two years two herbs have grown in my garden quite uninvited. They I think are Tarragon and Marjoram. Strangely, they look identical to the real herbs, BUT neither of them have any perfume in the leaves. I have found that there is a variety of Tarragon called Russian that does not have any smell, but I am mystified about the marjoram. This plant is growing very fast and healthy and has purple clumps of little flowers at the end of stalks about 30 – 40 centimetres long. If you have any information about these herbs I would be very grateful to receive it.
Thanks so much
If you mix the Marjoram with basil, oregano and sage it maks a great italian blend season. My family loves it. In fact I have trouble keeping it in supply. They use it so much, I am always looking for marjoram plants.
If you rub the leaf and it smells like lemon, it’s a weed. And you want to get rid of it quickly, before it takes over your garden. Thinking it was an herb myself, I let it be. It has a tubular root system. Do not use weed killer because it will kill everything else it touches. I didn’t dig deep enough to get the roots and in the spring i found it had ‘strangled’ the roots of 2 beautiful evergreens. ;((
The “marjoram” sounds identical to the weed that has over run my lawn. I hope for your sake it isn’t as I find it is growing faster than I can pull it out and the roots grow quite deep.
Tarragon should have a delicate lemony licorice aroma, it is delightful with beef.
I recently made white wine vinegar flavored tarragon (it’s `fermenting` for two weeks currently.) I used fresh tarragon instead of drying first, that was the appropriate move, correct?
I have a lovely rosemary mini shrub and made pesto using half basil and half rosemary. I added walnut oil, chopped dates, parmesan cheese and sea salt. Yum!
How do you stop basil from turning dark. I have made pesto for 2 years now and topped it off with EVOO & keep it in the frige but the pesto still turns almost black in a few days. Help!
@TNKathy Blanch your basil in boiling water (for no more than 5 seconds so the delicate leaves are not allowed to cook at all) then transfer to an iced water bath. Once completely cold remove and dry completely before moving on to the next stage. It helps if you have a basket that you can submerge to facilitate the 5 second dunk and transfer from hot to cold bath.
Alternatively you could try freezing the finished product. Divide into ice-cube trays and it is easy to defrost just as much as you require as and when you want. It should keep well for as long as you need it to.
When making basil pesto that want to store and keep that bright green add some parsley to the mix.
I add a little lemon juice to my pestos, it keeps them bright longer and it’s tasty as well. I put it into glass jars immediately and put a little olive oil on top. I don’t like to keep it in the fridge longer than a week so I freeze alot of Pesto!
I have just started experimenting with drying herbs. Most articles say to blanch parsley first but I don’t like the end result, although it stayed nice and green. Do I have to blanch the parsley to oven dry it? I have not read that I need to blanch any other herbs other than parsley.