Food Topic: Preserving Herbs
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  • Begin harvesting the herb when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth.
  • Harvest early in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the heat of the day.
  • Harvest herbs before flowering, otherwise, leaf production declines.
  • Annual herbs can be harvested until frost.
  • Perennial herbs can be clipped until late August. Stop harvesting about one month before the frost date. Late pruning could encourage tender growth that cannot harden-off before winter.

 Here are a few ways to preserving herbs for winter time use: (see the chart at the bottom of the page for specific herbs and how to preserve them)

Freezing is one of the easiest methods to preserve herbs. Rinse the herbs quickly in cold water, shake off the excess, then chop coarsely. Place generous pinches of herbs in water-filled ice cube trays and freeze. Transfer herb-cubes to plastic bags or air tight plastic containers. Another method for freezing is to spread the herbs loosely onto a cookie sheet to freeze, then transfer the herbs into a large plastic bag and seal. When they thaw, herbs will not be suitable for garnish, but can be used in cooking. Do not re-freeze herbs after thawing.

Drying is the traditional method of herb preservation. If the herbs are clean, do not wet them. Otherwise, rinse dust and dirt from the foliage, shake off the excess water, and spread the herbs out to dry on paper towels or dishcloths until all surface moisture has evaporated. Remove any dead or damaged foliage. Then, tie the stems into small bundles with twine or string and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, airy place out of the sun. Be sure to make small, loose bundles and allow for good air circulation around each bunch.

An alternative to hanging herbs to dry in bunches is to spread the herbs out on window screens. Suspend the screens over sawhorses or the backs of chairs. Turn the leaves often to ensure even drying.

To air dry herbs with seeds, tie the herbs in small bundles and suspend inside a paper bag with holes punched in the sides. Suspend the bag in a dark area with good air circulation. Collect the seeds when they are dry, and store in rigid light-proof containers.

Microwave drying is a quick and easy method to dry small amounts of herbs. Lay a single layer of clean, dry leaves between dry paper towels and place them in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes on high power. Drying will vary with the moisture content of the herb and the wattage of the microwave oven. Let the leaves cool. If they are not brittle, reheat for 30 seconds and retest. Repeat as needed. Thick leaved herbs may need to be air dried for several days before microwaving.

Conventional ovens can also be used to dry herbs. Spread the herbs on cookie sheets and dry at the lowest temperature setting possible.

Home food dehydrators also do an excellent job of drying herbs. Follow the directions provided with the dehydrator.

Herbs are sufficiently dry when they are brittle and crumble easily. When the leaves are dry, separate them from their stems and package the leaves in rigid containers with tight fitting lids. Glass or hard plastic are best, although heavy-duty zip-lock plastic bags can be used. To preserve full flavor, avoid crushing the leaves until you are ready to use them. Store dried herbs in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. Many herbs can be keep for a year if stored properly.

 

HERB

TO DRY*

TO FREEZE+

 

 

 

Basil

Spread fresh leaves apart in warm, dry area. Leaves crumble easily when dry. Use 1/3 as much as fresh in recipes

Chop leaves with olive oil or water. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Drop cubes directly into hot soups and sauces. Thaw first for salad dressings

Chives

not recommended- loose flavor and color

Cut up with scissors.  Great with potatoes!

Cilantro (Coriander-seed)

Coriander-Cut off seed heads and dry in warm, dry area.  Shake seeds out of heads. Crush.

Cilantro-chop. Scrape out needed amount

Coriander- not necessary to freeze

Dill (weed & seed)

Weed- spread out in warm, dry area until brittle. Crumble.

Seed- same as coriander

Weed-same as cilantro

Seed- not necessary to freeze

Mints/spearmint

same as basil

Chop leaves with water and pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Thaw before using.

Oregano

same as basil

Freeze whole leaves

Parsley

same as basil

same as cilantro

Rosemary

not recommended- becomes woody- bring the whole plant in for fresh throughout the year

Freeze whole sprigs or pull the leaves from the woody stems before freezing

Sage

same as basil

Freeze leaves individually or chop first

Tarragon

same as basil

same as sage

Thyme

same as basil- rub leaves off stems when dry

same as rosemary

*Store dried herbs whole or crushed in airtight containers.

+Store frozen herbs in freezer bags or boxes.

 

 

 

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