There are many health, medicinal, and flavorful reasons to grow herbs in your garden. Plus they tend to be among the easiest plants to raise as they are hardy and prolific. These characteristics also mean you are likely to have a lot more then you can use during the growing season. So you are going to want to preserve them for use the rest of the year.
Setting aside the more medicinal preparations like infusions, distillations, and tinctures, let’s focus on two basic, simple preservation methods for cooking use; drying and freezing.
I’m sure you’ve seen homey pictures of a room full of bundled herbs hanging from the rafters in a old Colonial kitchen or farm house. While this works, it also takes a lot of time and space to tie up all those little bundles, hang them, and wait weeks for them to properly dry.
My method? Cookie sheets and an oven. Simply wash your herbs gently in a colander, spread a layer of paper towels on cookie sheets, and spread your washed herbs out on them. Remove excess stems and pat dry. Set your oven on bake at the lowest possible temperature setting (for me that’s 175°) and place the trays of herbs in for 15 to 20 min. Check on them frequently to ensure they brown, but don’t burn. When the leaves crumble easily, remove and let cool.
After 5 minutes or so you should be able to grab the stems in one hand, and gently pinching the stem with the other, slide the pinching hand down the stem to remove the leaves. Do this over the paper towel on your cookie sheet. When all stems are de-leaved, place the stems in your compost bin and transfer the leaves to a glass mason jar by lifting the paper towel and pouring them in.
Common seasoning herbs you should dry: basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley.
The other way I like to preserve for recipes calling for fresh or green herbs is to freeze them. Start by gently rinsing and laying your herbs out, once again, on paper towels on top of cookie sheets, and pat dry. See how easy this is going to be to remember!
This time you need to separate the green leaves or chop your herbs first. Spread out the chopped herbs in one thin layer on your sheet. Avoid clumps if you can. Place the trays in your freezer for about 30 minutes. Remove and place the frozen herbs into resalable freezer bags.
The purpose of freezing them first on the trays is to avoid having one giant lump of frozen herbs. This way when it’s time to use them, you can easily open the bag and take out just what you need.
Good herbs to freeze: chives, mint, parsley, cilantro.
And there you have it. In only about an hour, you can have your herb bounty stored and ready for use all Fall and Winter until you can get them going again fresh next spring.