GARDEN

PRESERVING HERBS AT THE END OF HARVEST SEASON

If you want to enjoy your home grown herbs for more than just the summer growing season, finding ways to preserve them is important. One of the most popular herb preserving methods is drying and storing, but sometimes recipes are best with fresh ones. Herbs are wonderful aromatic additions to your kitchen, which is why preserving them should be part of any gardener’s harvest plan!

A couple years ago I built this simple herb drying structure with hooks to dry herbs, as well as a ledge to hold jars. Beneath the shelf, repurposed glass peanut butter jars hold dried herbs, where the jar lid is actually screwed into the wooden shelf. The glass jar unscrews, making it easy to fill the jars and reattach. 

Herb drying rack

While preparing to preserve herbs, ask yourself, “What will I be using this herb for”?

Thinking about the purpose will help determine what preserving method is best. 

Making tea = dried herb
Adding to a sauce or dip = freeze in oil
Adding to a drink = freeze in water
Using as a garnish = freeze in water
Using in a soup = freeze in water or oil
General use = dried herb
Gifting = herb salt preserving or dried herb blend
Vegetable/meat rub = herb salt

Hang Drying Herbs

To hang dry your herbs, you will need a small hook or nail of some sort, twine or cotton kitchen string, and your herbs of choice. Almost any herb can be hung like this to dry, it just requires a little patience since the air slowly draws the moisture from the plant.

  1. Cut herb stems from the main plant. If you are doing this mid-season, only harvest up to ⅓ of the plant at one time to ensure it continues to produce leaves and does not become stressed from overclipping. At the end of the season, you could harvest as much of your plants as you desire.
  2. Remove the leaves near the cut ends. This will help with tying your herb bundle as well as making sure there are not leaves caught under the twine that will not receive as much air access (creating room for mold growth… and we do not want that)! 
  3. Tie your bundle of herbs together by wrapping the twine around the bundle and tying a loop for hanging. The bundle should not exceed one inch in diameter at the cut ends to make sure the bundle is small enough so all parts of the hanging receive equal amounts of air circulation.
  4. Wait 2 – 3 weeks depending on the type of herb, then unwind the twine, remove the leaves from the stems, and store the leaves in a sealed container or jar. 

Easiest, most relaxed, and most underrated herb preserving method. No fancy tools, dehydrator appliances, or special ingredients. Just herbs, air, and time! 

Sheet Drying Herbs

Sheet drying is another air drying technique and instead of hanging bundles, leaves are removed from stems and placed on a flat surface such as a baking sheet or small container.  Instead of taking 2 – 3 weeks, this drying method only takes 3-4 days.

Cut chives sheet dried in a small flat container
  1. Remove herb leaves from the stems and spread evenly onto a baking sheet. If you are using this technique for a plant such as chives, you can cut the chives into small pieces first before spreading on the sheet.
  2. Place near to a window, out of direct sunlight. Leave them there until the herbs feel dry. After they feel dry, leave them out for one more day to ensure all the moisture is removed. Otherwise, the risk of moisture issues developing in the storage container is higher.
  3. After the herb leaves are dry, store them in a sealed container. 

Preserving Fresh by Freezing

You might freeze fruits, sauces, or leftovers, but why not herbs! Freezing is a great way to preserve the freshness of your garden but enjoy them at a later time. 

Top row: chopped basil in oil, Bottom row: mint leaves in water; ready to freeze!

Freezing in Water

I mostly like to freeze mint in water using an ice cube tray. Mint ice cubes are perfect for cocktails or just adding to your water. You can cut the leaves in half or just keep them whole, placing 4-5 leaves per cube. Of course, you could do this to any herb or fruit like berries or lemon to create decorative and delicious drinks. 

Freezing herbs in water is also great for soft herbs like parsley or cilantro. These garnish herbs can be frozen in water and added to cilantro or lemon parsley rice, topped on potatoes, or added to a pasta or bean salad later. 

Freezing in Oil

I love to freeze herbs in olive oil to make pesto later or add in a sauce. You could even create a blended herb oil cube with specific recipes in mind. 

Growing basil and don’t have time to make pesto right now? Pick your basil leaves, chop loosely, pack into an ice cube tray filling each cell ½ – ⅔ of the way.  Add 1 tbsp of oil per ice cube and you will already have ingredients measured for your fresh pesto recipe!

  1. Remove stems and roughly chop the leaves into smaller pieces
  2. Pack herbs into each ice cube cell and fill ½ to ⅔ of the way. Pour over with oil and place the tray into the freezer. Once frozen, the herb oil cubes can be placed into a reusable container for storage. The oil will become infused with the herbs, making for a lovely herbal addition to a hearty recipe like pasta, chili, risotto, or soup.

Herb Salt Preserving

Herb salt is a great way to preserve if you are looking to create a herb blend that can be added to many recipes. Herb salt is of course quite salty and should be treated like salt while using it. 

What You Need

  • 3 cups of various herbs such as basil, oregano, thyme, sage, parsley, rosemary, or dill
  • ½ cup coarse salt (better for blending and infusing)
  • 1 clove fresh organic garlic
  • Jars for storing
  1. Add all food ingredients to a food processor or strong blender and pulse to create a coarsely chopped mix.
  2. Store in a jar in the fridge for a few months.

Herb salt makes for a wonderful housewarming or holiday gift, as long as it doesn’t go too long without refrigeration. 

Every year I grow a variety of herbs in my garden for many different uses, with the goal of having excess to the herbs I grow year round. Harvest season always has me strategizing about which preserving methods to use and how much of each I should preserve. I always find I run out of my summer herb harvest around January, so every year I try to grow more and more! Preserving is a fun way to enjoy the harvest of your gardening labour throughout the year. 

Herbs in my Garden This Year (and uses!)

Spearmint – 1 plant, roughly 4 dried bundles from medium sized plant, plenty frozen ice cubes
Peppermint – 1 plant
Chocolate Mint – 2 very large plants (planted in large planters), 1.5 gallons of mint wine, will make approximately 6-8 dried bundles per plant.
Parsley – 1 plant
Silver Sage – 6 plants from seed, 1 plant purchased. Late maturing herb
Basil – 3 plants from seed, 1 plant purchased. Two batches of pesto, fresh pizza toppings, 4 dried bundles, frozen oil preserved cubes
English Thyme – 2 plants from seed, hardy and still growing, will make 2 dried bundles
Stevia – 1 plant, not sure what to use this one for yet!
Dill – 1 large plant, 3 jars of pickles, many fresh salads, dill seed harvest (collected 1/4 cup)
Chives – A bush of perennial plants, sheet dried.

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