I’ve got some seriously awesome herb production going on in my balcony garden–so much that I’ve started to harvest and preserve many of them so that we’ll be able to enjoy them all winter. I used to think that drying your herbs was the only way to preserve them, but that’s not the case. Here are 5 ways to preserve your summer herbs so that you can enjoy them all year round.
Hang or Rack Dry Them
Tie your herbs into small bunches. Don’t make the bunches too big–they need to air out, and big, dense bunches will prohibit air flow. Hang them upside down for about a week to dry. Prevent contamination from dust or other household messes by wrapping them in a thin, breathable fabric like tulle or cheesecloth.
If you don’t have a great spot to hang your herbs, you can lay them out on DIY drying racks. If you want to put some real effort into it, check out this awesome DIY drying rack using old picture frames. If you don’t have the time or your project list is just too long right now (raises hand), stretch tulle, cheesecloth, or another breathable fabric over the opening of a big strainer instead. Then lay the herbs out over your temporary drying rack for a few days. Flip them every so often.
Thyme tied to a string ready to hang
Freeze in Water or Oil Cubes
To freeze your herbs in water, pick the leaves off and wash them thoroughly. Then grab a muffin tin or ice cube tray and fill each cup up about halfway. Add just enough water to cover the herbs and freeze. Once completely frozen, add a bit more water to the top and pop the tin back in the freezer. This is necessary because some of the herbs will float to the top when you freeze them for the first time, and you want them all to be completely enclosed in the ice. Seal the cubes in air-tight, freezer-safe bags.
Basil frozen in water
To freeze herbs in oil, pick the leaves off and wash and air dry them. Then follow the same steps as you’d follow for freezing in water, except use a kitchen oil like olive oil. You could also make an herb-infused oil paste by blending the herbs in oil and freezing that.
Basil frozen in olive oil
Oven Dry, Microwave Dry, or Dehydrate Them
To oven dry your herbs, wash and air dry them. Then spread them out in a thin layer over an aluminum foil-lined pan and bake them at the lowest-possible heat setting your oven has, leaving the oven door cracked out to facilitate air circulation. After 30 minutes, check them every 15 minutes. Some herbs will take longer than others.
To dry herbs in the microwave, wash and air dry them. Then spread a single layer of leaves over a paper towel and heat for one minute. Watch (and smell!) very closely to make sure your leaves aren’t burning.
Dehydrating is super easy. Wash and air dry your herbs, then spread a single layer over each dehydrator tray. Set on the temperature your machine specifies for herbs. Ours is 100 for 7-8 hours.
Catnip dehydrated in a dehydrator
Wash and air dry your herbs. Arrange leaves or entire sprigs on a baking sheet and freeze overnight. Put the frozen herbs in air-tight, freezer-safe bags, squeezing out all of the extra air before sealing and storing.
Sage picked, washed, dried, and ready for freezing
Make Herb-Flavored Salts
Pick, wash, and air dry your leaves, then blend them with sea salt in a food processor. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spread the mix in a thin layer on the foil. Bake at about 200 for 30–60 minutes, stirring occasionally. When it’s done baking, run the salt mix through the food processor again to break up any chunks. Make sure the food processor is completely dry! For my herb salt, I used 1 cup sea salt, ½ cup oregano, and ½ cup rosemary.
Oregano and rosemary herb salt
A Few Tips…
- There is some disagreement over which herbs are safe to freeze. General consensus says that basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, fennel, lemongrass, mint, oregano, sage, tarragon, and thyme tolerate freezing well. If you’re worried about preserving taste, freeze a bit and see if it is still to your liking.
- I used this silicone mold for freezing, and it was really nice to be able to pop the frozen herbs right out.
- The frozen cubes are great for soups, while flash freezing and drying are better for herbs that you want to sprinkle onto recipes.
- Dried herbs are about three to four times stronger than fresh herbs.