Preserve your herbs and enjoy them for as long as possible.
So you have started your own urban garden or gotten a large bouquet of fresh herbs recently, but what now? You might be wondering how you can preserve them to last as long as possible. Well, wonder no more, I’ve got you covered!
The first and most common option is to dry them. Dry herbs will last for years if kept in sealed, dry jars and this is also the easiest method of preserving herbs out there. All you need to do is wash and clean your herbs if they’re full of dirt, then spread them out on a cloth or a plate and leave them to air dry for 2-3 weeks. If there’s a lot of them, you can also tie them together in bunches with a bit of twine and hang them up to dry.
It’s important to make sure that they’re very dry and crumbly by the time they’re done, because any remaining water content is a potential mould risk. Store them in clean, dry, sealed containers like glass jars or plastic boxes – personally I like to reuse pickling jars and food packaging for this purpose.
You can also dry other, unorthodox things, such as strawberry leaves, cherry stems, green herb stalks for soups (from coriander, parsley, dill etc.) and citrus peel. Dried lemon or orange peel is used in many baking recipes and you can make a cheap natural cleaning solution by soaking them in alcohol vinegar. This year I made a herbal tea mixture from dried cherry stems, strawberry, raspberry and mint leaves and thymus. Yes, strawberry, raspberry leaves and cherry stems can be used in tea, which I only recently found out. Also, most species of chilli leaves are edible!
Although drying works great, the herbs will lose their freshness and there’s a definite difference between fresh and dry herbs in terms of flavour and texture. If you want to preserve that, you can freeze your herbs. The easiest option is to freeze them in small batches, like in ice cube trays, so you can use just one portion when you’re cooking.
You can either freeze them in oil or water and you can even freeze some herbs like parsley in a small jar and take out individual leaves if they’re not wet going in. Freezing works best for tougher herbs with smaller leaves, such as rosemary, sage, thyme and oregano, but doesn’t work that well for basil, mint and other herbs with soft leaves.
Drying and freezing tend to work for most herbs, but some herbs like chives can lose flavour and colour when dried. Those can be preserved in oil (usually sunflower or olive oil) for up to a few weeks and you can also make infused herb oils. Since fresh herbs contain quite a lot of water, there’s a potential for mould growth and they likely won’t keep for longer than 2 months, so if you’d like to make lasting infused oils, you’ll need to strain out the herbs (more below).
You can store chopped chives in oil or make soup seasonings – I make small batches of sunflower oil with salt and green herb stalks like parsley and chives. Olive oil infused with rosemary, lemon peel, chillies, basil or lavender, or a combination of those, is always a good idea too, as the oil will leech out the flavour and enhance it.
You can also preserve other things in oil, like chillies – chop up some garlic and hot chillies, pickle them in olive oil and use on spaghetti. It’s advisable to soak them in a salt and white vinegar bath overnight first to get rid of some water content and make them last longer (see how to do it here). You can keep all oil creations at room temperature, but be sure to use clean jars and keep an eye out for mould regularely.P.S.: You can find some of my other oil pickling ideas here.
Butter and pesto
A similar option is to preserve your herbs in butter by making herb butter or a pesto. To make herb butter, leave the butter out to soften a bit and mix in chopped herbs and a bit of salt with your fork. Mash it together, then store it in the fridge, where it will harden and keep for up to a month. You can use just one herb or a mix of different ones, as well as garlic and pepper. Personally, I love rosemary butter, sage and garlic butter and Mediterranean butter with basil, chives, rosemary, oregano, thyme and garlic.
Alternatively, you can make a pesto by blending your herbs with olive oil and some nuts. This works great for vegetable greens that you’d otherwise throw out as well, and I’ve already written about it in my post about cooking with food scraps.
#4: Salves and lip balms
When it comes to oil preservation, another thing you can do with your herbs is to make an old school salve or lip balm. As it turns out, making both is surprisingly easy, requires very few ingredients, and you can even make those from inedible herbs and flowers. To avoid making this post too long, I’ve written a separate one about making herbal salves and I’ll make one about lip balms too.
Another option is to preserve your herbs in salt or make herbal salt. To preserve the herbs in salt, wash and dry the leaves and remove the stalks. Get a clean jar and add a layer of salt at the bottom, then a layer of herbs and keep alternating until the jar is full. The salt will leech the water from the herbs overnight and reduce their volume, so you can pack in some more herbs and salt in the morning, but the leaves will stay surprisingly fresh for months.
If you don’t chop the leaves, you can take them out as needed and easily wash off the salt if you don’t want to use so much of it. Remember that the herbs will be salty despite that, so use less salt when cooking. 🙂 However, if you do chop them, it will be harder to separate them from the salt and you’ll essentially end up with almost a herbal salt. Either way it should be kept in the fridge or in a cool place like a cellar or a pantry.
This works best for leafy or more watery herbs like dill, basil, celery leaves, chives etc. and the salt will become flavoured as well, so you can use it for cooking too. I like to purposely make herbal salt from the green stalks that wouldn’t get used otherwise, by chopping them up and packing them into a jar with salt and peppercorns. Also, herbal salt with bay leaves is amazing!
And that’s it for, I think. I don’t know any other methods to preserve herbs, but if you do, let me know in the comments please. Do you grow your own herbs?