It’s incredible how just using fresh herbs can transform a dish. It adds such a depth of flavor that’s difficult to achieve any other way. It also has the advantage of giving some extra nutrients to your food as these herbs are packed with them. Parsley for example is full of vitamin C.
And for people who are trying to reduce their sodium intake to reduce their blood pressure and prevent cardiovascular disease, using fresh herbs will reduce the amount of salt used as most of the time salt is used to itensify flavor which you can do by using fresh herbs.
Even better is when you cook something very simple and just by adding fresh herbs it just tastes entirely different. A good example is an omelette, without any herbs is good, but when you add chives or parsley it’s a whole different level.
Why preserve fresh herbs?
I grow a few herbs in containers, my version of a garden in my tiny apartment, however I buy fresh herbs from the market often as I don’t have all the herbs that I like to use in my everyday cooking.
The issue is that most of the markets sell these herbs in bundles and since I’m cooking just for 2, I find it really hard to use them up completely, that’s why I prefer to preserve it before it goes bad and consequently reduce my food waste.
Before doing this, I wasted a lot of fresh herbs.
One other advantage of preserving fresh herbs is that you can eat more locally. You buy them when they’re in season, this means that it doesn’t need to travel too much to reach you, reducing your footprint.
I love to be able to use basil that was grown locally that I bought in season. It’s such a nice feeling to know where your food came from and that you helped support a local business. It also makes me appreciate more each season, each season gives us specific foods and if it’s not in the farmers market perhaps it’s not growing nearby.
Before preserving your fresh herbs, make sure that your herbs are in the best condition to be used.
You want to extract maximum amount of flavor from these herbs, you’ll want them to be in their best shape.
First of all, start by removing any dried up or diseased leaves. You can use the already dried leaves to enhance the flavor of your homemade vegetable broth or make tea.
Then wash them thoroughly ensuring that dirt and any bugs are removed.
Pat dry them with a kitchen towel. If you’re freezing them in water you won’t need to pat dry them, for every other method ensure that they’re fully dried. This will help avoid extra moisture that may cause mold.
How to Preserve Fresh Herbs
Follow these methods to help store your fresh herbs for longer. If your garden if full of fresh herbs and you don’t loose them before their season is over
Freeze fresh herbs in ice cube trays
For me, the best way to preserve fresh herbs is to freeze fresh herbs in ice cubes in olive oil or water. It doesn’t take much effort to make this and you’ll have fresh herbs all year.
Coarsely chop your fresh herbs and add them to an ice cube tray. Fill the tray with olive oil or water and freeze. Once frozen, you can store them in a reusable bag or in a glass jar.
These cubes will last up to one year in the freezer.
Should I freeze in olive oil or water?
That’s totally up to you. Personally, I prefer to freeze in olive oil, I find that the flavor retains better. But if you cannot eat fat for some reason, you can also freeze it in water without any issue.
Freeze fresh herbs whole
If you don’t want to use ice cube trays, you can freeze them without any liquid. Once dried, freeze in a baking sheet and then transfer to a glass jar – I love to use small yogurt cups for this or reusable bag.
Freeze soft herbs
For softer herbs, for example like coriander and parsley, chop your fresh herbs and put in a airtight container in your freezer. Once you’re ready to use it, you can just take a little bit and add it to your dishes.
The disadvantage of this method for soft herbs is that the herbs will last less time in the freezer. Not that they become rotten but they do loose their flavor faster as they’re more in contact with the air of the freezer. Fresh herbs stored with this method will last for about 2 months. It works and my mom actually uses this method to store her coriander but keep in mind that it’ll last much less.
Basil will turn darker once frozen like this but will retain its flavor. I love to use this darker basil to flavor my soup, since I will be pureeing it I don’t need to worry about its looks.
Freeze hardy herbs
Freezing hardy herbs, like thyme or sage, is easier. They will retain its color and you don’t need to chop them beforehand. Put them in your freezer and store them once frozen, that’s it.
If you don’t want to use their twigs, you can rub them after frozen and their leaves will fall off.
Air Dry fresh herbs
I grew up watching my parents air dry bay. Bay is a very popular herb in Portuguese cuisine and once dried it lasts for years. It adds such amazing flavor to stews, I love it.
Like bay, most of the hardy herbs are great to be air dried. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc, once dried will last for a long time, about 1 year for maximum flavor (but like I said above, we use bay that was dried 2-3 years ago).
Don’t air dry soft herbs like coriander or parsley, they contain too much moisture to be air dried. These types of herbs are better candidates to be dehydrated.
How to bundle air dry fresh herbs
Gather herbs in bundles and tie them with twine (or scrap yarn, don’t need to be too fancy about it!), hang them upside down in a cool ventilated room and let it dry for about 2-3 weeks. Make sure that they’re fully dry before storing your herbs to avoid spoilage. They shouldn’t be soft to touch. Don’t let it dry in the sun as the sun rays will make your herbs loose flavor.
How to air dry fresh herbs in a baking sheet
If you live in an apartment without much ventilation, like I do, it’ll be much harder to dry in bundles. Personally I’m fan of air drying my herbs fully spread out in a baking sheet and leave it in the counter for 1-2 weeks. If you’ve lots of herbs then you can layer them with a kitchen towel or a cheesecloth in between.
My parents’ basement is great to bundle air dry herbs, my tiny apartment not so much. Bundle air drying requires much more ventilation. So drying my herbs in a baking sheet works best for me.
How to store dried herbs
Now that you’ve dried your fresh herbs, the best way to store them is in a cool dark place in an airtight container. Glass jars are great to store spices, you can repurpose glass jars from sauces or even from spices that you bought in the supermarket. Label them with the date and you’re ready to go.
They’re best used up to 1 year but they’ll keep for longer, just keep in mind that the sooner you use them, the more flavor they will have.
Dehydrate fresh herbs
A quick way to preserve herbs is to use a dehydrator. In a few hours you can dry all your herbs. Arrange them in the dehydrator and then let it dry for 2-4 hours depending on the herb. Softer herbs usually have more moisture so will require more time or more heat in the dehydrator.
If you don’t own a dehydrator, you can dehydrate your herbs using your kitchen oven. It’ll definitely take longer. Just put them in a baking sheet in the lowest temperature setting of your oven (usually 50ºC/120ºF) and let it dry for about 8-12h.
Make herb infused salt
Salt is a natural food preservative. Salt draws the water out of food and dries it. By removing the water, bacteria won’t grow, it doesn’t have any environment to live on.
Making herb infused salt might be a good idea to use up all the fresh herbs that you’re afraid of letting go to waste and as a bonus you’ll be saving a bit of money as herb infused salts are usually expensive.
If you never used these kind of salts, it’s not that different from a regular salt, it just gives you that extra flavor without a lot of work, that ticks all the boxes for me: easy, cheap and better food.
Herb infused salt it’s also a great gift for all the cooks you know.
Herb infused salt with softer herbs
Since they’ve much more water, they need more salt to draw the moisture out.
To make herb infused salt with softer herbs, you’ll need to mix up 1 part of chopped herbs to 2 parts of salt.
Herb infused salt with hardy herbs
For hardy herbs, you’ll need to reduce the amount of salt, 1 part of herbs, use only leaves, to 1 part of salt.
Mix everything together and let it sit in a cool dark place for about 1 week. Once ready, store in an airtight container. It will last for about 6 months.
Ready to store fresh herbs for long-term storage?
Hopefully these examples will help you preserve your fresh herbs to use up later. Most of them won’t take too much of your time, they’re pretty hands-off, you just need to be patient.