Garden herbs can be preserved in a variety of different ways. This guide will help teach you everything you need to know to preserve your own herbs at the end of the gardening season. The method that you use to preserve your herbs will depend on what type of herb you are trying to preserve, what you plan on using the herbs for, and also on personal preference.
Harvesting Your Herbs
The first step in preserving herbs from your garden is to harvest them when they are ready. This can be done by using scissors, pruning sheers, or a strong kitchen knife, to snip the herbs. If the herb is able to survive winter, you will want to cut the stems at the base of the plant. Other herbs can be entirely pulled out. Roots and other parts of the herb can be composted. All herbs, cut for drying should be snipped so that they are left with long stems.
Cleaning Your Herbs
Once you have harvested all of your herbs properly, the next step in the preservation process is cleaning. All dirty herbs should be washed carefully, remember to be gentle, you don’t want to damage the herbs during this process. The best way to wash herbs is to gently spray them with a fine mist sprayer and then wipe them dry. (washing them any other way can cause mildew). To dry your herbs, pat them with a paper towel and shake them lightly until they are completely dry.
Different Methods for Preserving Herbs Include:
One method for preserving herbs is hanging. Hanging herbs does not require much effort and is an easy and fairly quick way to allow the herbs to dry out, so you can preserve them. In order to properly hang your herbs to dry, follow the next few steps carefully:
- Remove lower leaves from stems and tie the bunches of herbs together, close to the top of the stems.Try not to include more than 5 or 10 stems to a bunch, this will allow proper ventilation which is ideal for drying.
- Find a dry, warm (not humid), dark, and well ventilated place to hang your herbs. The ideal temperature you want to aim for is 68 degrees Fahrenheit/20 degrees Celsius. Leave the herbs out to dry for 1 to 3 weeks. Check them every now and then to see how they are doing. Keep in mind that thicker stemmed herbs will take a bit longer to dry. Once the herbs consistency is crumbly they are ready to be taken down. (you can see if they are crumbly by rubbing a single leaf between two of your fingers, if it crumbles then you know its ready).
- Next, remove the leaves and bottle them in an airtight jar. Be sure to remove any foreign materials like wood or fluff. It is up to you whether you want to keep the herbs whole, or crush them into a fine powder. It really just depends on what you plant on using them for. (whole leaves are great for teas, garnishing, and soups, whereas powders work great for seasoning dishes). Seeds should be left whole and crushed only when needed for cooking.
- Label and date your jar so you know what it is. Herbs can be stored for up to a year.
Freezing herbs is another easy way to preserve herbs, and is ideal because it makes cooking easy. Some herbs freeze better than others, so make sure to consider this before trying the process. Some appropriate herbs for freezing include: basil, parsley, and tarragon.
- Once you have decided which herbs you will be freezing, the first step is to wash and dry the herbs.
- Next, strip the leaves off and place them into a freezer bag or container.
- Label and date the containers so you can remember what’s what. (Frozen herbs should keep for 3 months).
Other helpful tips: If you want your herbs to last longer than 3 months, you can try blanching them for a few seconds and then dipping them straight into ice cold water immediately afterwards. Then pop them in the freezer in a freezer bag or container and store up to 6 months.
One way to preserve herbs long term is to steep them. After harvesting and cleaning your herbs, follow the next steps:
- Now that your herbs are picked and cleaned, you have the option to leave the leaves attached to the stem or remove them to add them separately. Using a bit of oil (olive oil works best), place your herbs inside an airtight jar or bottle alongside the oil. This method is an attractive and decorative option and will spruce up any kitchen space.
- Be sure to store in a cool or refrigerated place, especially during warmer months. Use within 6 months.
Drying herbs is another easy way to preserve them for cooking.
- Once you have harvested and cleaned your fresh herbs you are going to want to lay some clean paper towels down on a counter top or table. Layer them in twos.
- Next, snip washed leaves off the stem and arrange the herbs in rows on one side of the towel.
- Lay another paper towel on top. (folded in half over the leaves).
- Add another layer of leaves and bring half of first 2 towel layers to cover.
- Leave the towels and herbs out to dry for 2-3 days. Keeping in mind that the thicker the leaves, the longer it will take for them to dry out. Again, you will know when your herbs are ready by using the crumbling method.
- Once herbs are dry, they can be placed in a Ziploc bag, jar, or container and kept for up to a year.