If you grow herbs in your garden, you probably have tons of them ready to harvest now that winter is creeping up on us. It is amazing having fresh herbs at your disposal all summer long, but don’t despair; there are lots of ways to preserve the end of season leftovers to use throughout the winter. Most people, myself included, default to drying as the preservation method, but there are many other fun, creative, easy, and tasty ways to preserve your herb harvest.
7 ways to preserve herbs
1. Dried Herbs
Drying is always a good option for preserving herbs because dried herbs are easy to use, easy to store, last a long time, and taste great in all kinds of recipes. There are several ways to dry them, depending on your equipment and preferences. One way is to simply hang them in small bunches in a warm, dry indoor location and let them dry naturally. Herbs can also be dried in a food dehydrator, an oven, or the microwave if you want them done fast. You can even use the sun to dry them, either directly or in a cool DIY solar food dehydrator like the one we previously wrote about.
I personally use my food dehydrator the most because I can dry large batches of herbs at a time all in a nice, vertical stack. Sometimes, if I am only drying a small amount, I just wash them and lay them out on paper towels on my counter to let them dry over a day or two. Herbs are pretty forgiving when it comes to drying methods. After they are dry, I simply store them in sealed bags or in jars. Below are some of my jars of herbs from this summer, all ready to use as I need them this winter.
2. Frozen Herbs
Like drying, there are a variety of ways to freeze herbs. Freezing, if done properly, preserves much of the delicious flavor of herbs that can be lost in drying. Herbs do not need to be blanched like many other foods before freezing, which is a big plus if you are short on time and need to quickly and easily preserve your herb harvest.
I found this method from Kaylyn’s kitchen interesting. She freezes hard-leafed herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme in bags for a few weeks until the leaves easily fall off the stems. She then repacks them in jars to store long term in the freezer. They retain their fragrance and flavor very well using this method. The rosemary in the above photo has been in the freezer for over a year and is still green and fragrant!
3. Herbs Frozen in Oil
I recently came across the freezing in oil method and most people seem to agree that this is the best way to retain the essential oils in herbs for maximum flavor. Freezing in oil also keeps the fresh, green color that herbs can lose over time in the freezer. Olive oil, coconut oil, and butter all work well as the oil base for this method. I love the idea of freezing herbs in oil in ice cube trays, as shown on The Kitchn. This is a great way to have perfect portion sizes for cooking easily accessible. Just toss a cube into soups, stews, or a frying pan as a flavor-packed starter for any meal.
Another method for freezing herbs in oil is to blend the oil and herbs together in a food processor. Jacqueline from Deep Roots at Home does this and packs the mixture into freezer bags so they can freeze flattened and store easily. She then just cuts off the portions needed when cooking, no thawing necessary.
4. Herb Infused Vinegar
Vinegars infused with herb combinations are delicious! I remember buying a bottle of vinegar infused with garlic, oregano, parsley, and rosemary at the farmers market a few years ago and it became one of my favorite kitchen staples. It can be used in a variety of ways: as a meat marinade, drizzled over salad or cooked vegetables, used in stir fry, or pretty much whatever else you want to add a punch of flavor to.
Infused vinegars are super easy to make. Choose a good quality vinegar, like apple cider or white wine, and pour it over a handful of fresh, good quality herbs in a jar. Let it steep for a few weeks, or until it suits your taste, then strain the vinegar into a sterilized bottle. If you are giving the vinegar as a gift or if you just like the look of herbs in the bottle, you can add fresh herbs to the vinegar and remove or replace them after about a month. See this article on Evermine for more information about how to make these beautifully delicious vinegars.
5. Herb Infused Honey
Here’s one I never thought of, and what an awesome idea! Infusing herbs in honey provides the health benefits of herbs and honey in one. It can be used as a sweet treat or medicinally – orally or topically. Dried or fresh herbs can be added to honey, depending on personal preference. Be sure to use quality, raw honey and if you use fresh herbs, make sure they are dry and have some time to wilt in order to prevent bacteria growth. See some different ways to infuse honey with herbs on Whispering Earth.
6. Fresh Herb Salt
Herb salt is one of those things that is so simple to make, and once you get a taste of it you will always want it on hand. If you search the web for herb salt recipes, you’ll find all kinds of different ways to make it. Some people dry their herbs before adding them to salt and some use fresh herbs. I have combined dried herbs and salt before, but I particularly liked this recipe from Homemade & Yummy because the combination of salt and fresh, pureed herbs just looks so…well…yummy! To make herb salt this way, just puree your choice of herbs, garlic if desired, and coarse salt in a food processor until it is well blended. You want it to resemble the coarse texture in the photo, not a paste. Transfer it into a glass jar and it will store in the refrigerator for months. Delicious!
7. Herbal Extracts
Homemade herb extracts are another delicious creation that are useful in the kitchen and make great gifts. Most of us have used vanilla and mint extract, but you can make extracts out of just about any herb. They all have various uses; some have amazing flavoring for recipes and some reportedly have valuable medicinal properties. Extracts are made by soaking herbs (or fruit peels, or vanilla beans…) in vodka for several weeks. Simple! For specific directions and to see how to make the wax seals shown on the extract bottles in the photo, visit Kirbie’s Cravings.
There are many other ways to use your herb harvest, but hopefully this list gives you some ideas that are quick and easy to implement. Do you have any favorite herb preservation methods? Let us know in the comments!