Tripanel image of thyme celery and parsley

Fresh herbs are harder to find in off-season months, especially during winter. However, you can easily preserve fresh herbs, such as oregano, thyme and sage, for use all year round. Just remember that dried herbs are more potent than fresh herbs, so adjust your portions when substituting dry for fresh in recipes. Choose the one that best suits your needs, or try several before deciding on a favourite.

Three ways to preserve fresh herbs

There are three ways to preserve fresh herbs:

  1. Drying
  2. Freezing
  3. Preserving in oil

The method you choose should depend on the type of herb you’re preserving and how you intend to use it. Preserving your own fresh herbs may seem a bit daunting at first, but you’ll soon get the hang of it and take your cooking to a whole new level.

Drying Fresh Herbs

Drying Fresh Herbs

There are four options available for drying fresh herbs. Air drying is simple and cost-effective, but it takes more time and space. It also won’t work very well if you live in an area with high-humidity. You can also use a conventional oven, microwave oven or food dehydrator to dry your herbs. Dried herbs should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place. They will keep their flavour for up to a year, but are best if used within six months of drying.

1

Hanging fresh herbs

  1. Gently wash or use a fine mist sprayer to clean the herbs before beginning.
  2. Shake excess moisture off the herbs and thoroughly pat them dry with a paper towel.
  3. Remove the lower leaves from the stems along with any withered leaves.
  4. Gather the herbs in bunches of 5 to 10 stems and use twine to tie them together close to the top of the stems.
  5. Hang them upside down in a dry, warm, dark place that is well ventilated for 1 to 3 weeks.
  6. If you don’t have a suitably dark place, hang them covered with brown paper bags pierced with air holes.
  7. Test to see if the drying process is complete by rubbing a leaf in your fingers; if it crumbles, it’s dry.
  8. Do not leave herbs hanging too long or their flavour will decline.
  9. When the herbs have been dried, remove the leaves and bottle them in airtight glass jars.
  10. Label and date each jar for storing.
2

Oven drying fresh herbs

  1. Gently wash or use a fine mist sprayer to clean the herbs before beginning.
  2. Set oven temperature to 180 degrees.
  3. Arrange clean herbs in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  4. Place the cookie sheet in the oven for 1 to 4 hours.
  5. Leave the door ajar during the entire process to let the moisture escape.
  6. Stir the herbs around periodically to avoid burning.
  7. The herbs are dry when they crumble between your fingers.
  8. When dry, remove the leaves from the stems and bottle them in airtight glass jars and arrange on a spice rack.
  9. Label and date each jar for storing.
3

Microwave drying fresh herbs

  1. Gently wash or use a fine mist sprayer to clean the herbs before beginning.
  2. After cleaning, make sure the herbs are free of moisture before microwaving.
  3. Place the herbs in a single layer on a paper towel and cover with another sheet of paper towel.
  4. Microwave on high for 2 minutes.
  5. Turn the paper towel and continue heating in 30-second intervals until the herbs are dry and brittle.
  6. Place dried herbs in airtight glass jars.
  7. Label and date each jar for storing.
4

Food dehydrator

  1. If the herbs have large leaves, strip them away from the stems. Small leaf herbs like thyme can be left as sprigs.
  2. Spread the leaves or sprigs in single layers on dehydrator trays.
  3. Dry at 35C (95F) until crumbly. This should take from 2-8 hours depending on the thickness and moisture content of the leaves, and the humidity in the air.
  4. Check for dryness every 2 hours.
  5. Once complete, transfer the dried herbs to airtight glass jars.
  6. Label and date each jar for storing.

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Freezing is the best method of preserving chives and soft-leaf herbs, such as basil, cilantro, parsley and tarragon. Herbs can be frozen chopped or whole, depending on your preference. There are three options for freezing fresh herbs.

1

Straight to freezer

  1. Clean and dry the herbs before beginning.
  2. Remove the leaves from the stems, place the leaves in an airtight freezer bag and put the bag in the freezer.
  3. Alternately, lay the herbs flat on a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer.
  4. Once they herbs are frozen, place them in airtight bags or containers and store in the freezer.
  5. Label and date the containers and bags.
  6. Herbs frozen by this method should keep for up to 3 months.
2

Blanching

  1. Place the herbs in hot water for a few seconds.
  2. Dip them immediately into ice-cold water.
  3. Place the herbs into airtight bags or containers and then into the freezer.
  4. Herbs that have been blanched and frozen will keep for up to 6 months.
3

Ice cubes

  1. Place 2 or 3 leaves of the herb into each cup of an ice-cube tray.
  2. Alternatively, fill each cup in the ice-cube tray 1/3 full with chopped herbs, then fill with water.
  3. Alternatively, fill the cup with a purée of chopped herbs and olive oil.
  4. Place the tray in the freezer.
  5. Once the cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and place in an airtight bag.
  6. Remove cubes from the freezer as needed: defrost or toss frozen into stews, soups or casseroles.

Steeping Fresh Herbs in Oil

Steeping Fresh Herbs in Oil

This method infuses the inherent flavour of the herb with the flavour of the oil you choose. The herbs can then be removed from the oil for use in cooking. You can also use the oil itself for cooking, or to flavour salads, dips, etc.

  1. Clean and dry the herbs.
  2. If preserving herbs for use in cooking, use only the leaves; if preparing herbal-flavoured oil, keep the stems on.
  3. If preserving herbs for use as a spice, place in a wide-mouthed jar for easy removal.
  4. Label and date the containers.
  5. Store the herbed oil in a cool place or refrigerator.
  6. Herbs steeped in oil should be used within 6 months of preparation.
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