Two Ways to Preserve Herbs
Our Minnesota temps at night are dipping into the mid forties which means that tender annual herbs like basil are starting to turn. Perennial herbs like sage, thyme, chives and oregano hold out a little longer until it frosts. I like to have nearly everything harvested while the plants are still fragrant and preserved to use throughout the winter months well before the first frost. Dehydrating and freezing herbs are my two favorite (and most useful) ways to preserve herbs. The first step to either method is to clean your herbs by giving them a good rinse in cold water and gently pat them dry with a tea towel or you can use a salad spinner.
Dehydrating (Drying) Herbs
Dehydrating is appropriate for all herbs and can be done with a dehydrator or you can hang them upside down in a location that has some airflow. If hang-drying, just wrap some kitchen twine around the stem and suspend them upside down until leaves are crisp. If you are using a dehydrator, you should strip the leaves off the stem for larger leaf herbs like sage and basil and arrange them in a single layer on each tray.
For smaller leafed herbs, I find it easiest to keep the leaves on the stem and just cut the stem to smaller lengths especially for thyme, rosemary, and oregano. Dehydrate on the setting indicated for herbs and let dry until leaves are crisp. After the leaves are dry, crumble them off the stem onto a piece of parchment paper. Remove any stem pieces and transfer to a small food processor. Pulse a few times until the leaves are a fairly fine texture.
Spoon the leaves into spice jars or other small containers and label with the type of herb they contain. Dried herbs will keep for many years but will lose potency after about one year so it’s best to use them up sooner. Extra jars of herbs make excellent gifts!
All herbs are able to be frozen but those that are used for recipes in larger quantity like basil or oregano are easiest to freeze as you can freeze them in teaspoon or tablespoon size portions for easy to use herb bombs. To freeze your herbs, combine the herb you’ll be freezing in a small food processor with a small amount of olive oil. You want just enough olive oil so the chopped bits start to hold together. If you don’t have a small processor, chop the herbs as finely as you can and then stir together with olive oil in a small bowl. With a tablespoon or teaspoon, spoon onto a tray in small mounds.
Place the whole tray into the freezer overnight until the herb bombs are frozen. Once frozen, remove from the tray and store in a freezer proof container. Basil herb bombs like this are perfect to just toss into a homemade spaghetti sauce or soups!
Chives can be frozen without the addition of olive oil. Rouchly chop them up into small bits and place directly into a freezer proof container. When ready to use, simply crumble the desired amount out of the container while still frozen.