How do I preserve fresh herbs for use later on?
January 4, 2013 1:26 AM   Subscribe

What are the best ways to preserve an abundance of fresh herbs of any type? When our herb garden decides to produce faster than we need it to (like now!) it'd be great if I could save some for later on when its season is over. Details inside, but I'm interested in anything that has worked for you in a similar situation.

I currently have too much sage, and often have tons of basil and mint. I have lots of freezer room, a bit of pantry space, and am willing to experiment.
posted by harriet vane to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
sun dry your herbs, and make pesto

I also just roughly chop up herbs and put them in the freezer so that they're ready for use whenever, because you can throw them into a cooking pot still frozen.
posted by saraindc at 1:43 AM on January 4, 2013

I've found basil freezes fine in airtight tupperware or a ziplock bag. Or if you want to make pesto with the basil, pesto freezes fine as well.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 1:47 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can freeze fresh herbs in olive oil for easy use.
posted by neushoorn at 1:48 AM on January 4, 2013 [5 favorites]

Get an ice cube tray, put chopped herbs into each compartment, top up with water or chicken/veg stock, freeze. When the recipe calls for it, grab a few ice cubes and throw them into the pot.
posted by essexjan at 1:50 AM on January 4, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'll agree with freezing. At the end of the summer anything left in the window box herb garden goes into small plastic sandwich bags and then into the freezer, works fine...simple, easy...
posted by HuronBob at 4:19 AM on January 4, 2013

Sage dries well; basil and mint don't. For the sage, you can just clip bunches of it up in a dry area and leave it until it dries; then snip the leaves, crumble it in your hands and stuff it all in a jar.

For the basil and mint - essexjan's advice about the ice cubes is the way to go. For the basil in particular, though, try blanching the leaves first - boil a big pot of water, then drop a handful of basil leaves right into it, use a spoon to push them down under the water's surface, and then scoop them right back out again. They'll be a little wilted and very green. Chop them up like that (your food processor works best) and stuff them in the ice cube trays (there's probably enough water clinging to them that you won't have to top them up with any more). The blanching sets the flavor and the color. Or make pesto (blanch the leaves first here, too) and then freeze it.

I can attest the blanch-and-freeze method works for basil; I got 20 bunches this summer from my CSA in one fell swoop and turned it into about 7 cups of pesto and a gallon-size bag of basil ice cubes. I have successfully used both in the past six months and it tasted and even smelled just like fresh.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 AM on January 4, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yes on the freezing! I used to go through various steps before freezing and now just put the herbs in the form I want them in the baggies directly in the freezer. Preferably the herbs are fresh and without water droplets on them. Then I use the herbs just like fresh herbs in cooked or pureed manners. So I wouldn't put the basil on a salad but in a cold pureed soup or on a pizza works great. I have bunches of parsley and cilantro to use in recipes and salsa throughout the winter. The hardier herbs like rosemary are great too.
posted by kimmae at 5:33 AM on January 4, 2013

And for more general advice (if you ever come into other herbs in future) - some herbs are better suited to drying than others. In general, the herbs from woodier plants like sage, thyme, rosemary, and oregano dry best. The tender-leafed herbs (basil, mint, chives, parsley) are better suited for freezing.

There are all sorts of sites that may mention fancy-ass drying methods like "cook them in the microwave for a minute" or "pack them in salt"; those methods both work, but the "hang it up in a warm place and let the air do the work" is easiest. With thyme, you actually don't even have to strip the leaves off the stem when they're dry - I always end up using thyme in long-simmering things like soups or stews, and you can just drop the whole sprig right in the pot as is; the leaves fall off as it's cooking and do their work, and you just fish the naked stem out right before you serve. Way easier than trying to chop thyme (the leaves are so teeny-tiny anyway, how DO you chop the damn things? How can you tell?).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:50 AM on January 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

The best way to preserve basil is a basil log. It's fast, easy, flexible and useful.

You can't make a sage log though -- the leaves are too stiff to roll nicely. I like to wash the sage leaves and spread them out on a cookie sheet in the freezer overnight. The next morning, put them all in a ziplock bag. When you use them, you don't need to thaw, just shop or put them into a dish whole or whatever. This works well, but I don't do it often. I live in an area where I can just harvest leaves off the plant all year (it stops growing, but the leaves don't die).

You can use the log approach for mints that have leaves more like basil and less like sage (I find that mint leaves are generally somewhere in between).
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:31 AM on January 4, 2013

I chop up my fresh herbs and put them in zipper bags and store them in the freezer. I have never been sad about this. I have tons of fresh-tasting herbs, all ready to go into soups, salads, spanakopitas, etc.

Basil, dill, thyme, sage, parsley and chives all have a home in my freezer.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:52 AM on January 4, 2013

While we're at it - the freeze-it-in-an-ice-cube-tray method also works for minced garlic and minced ginger. One "ice cube" usually equals a tablespoon or so. If you do a lot of Asian cooking, it may be worth it to chop garlic and ginger together and freeze them both in cubes just like that - a huge number of stir-fry recipes start with minced garlic and ginger, and if you've got a stock of pre-chopped garlic and ginger together you've just saved a step.

Heck, basil is something that also gets used in Southeast Asian cooking, so if you've got some cubes of chopped basil and some cubes of minced garlic and ginger, you could throw some Thai stir-fry together like (*snap*) that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:22 AM on January 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wow, these are great ideas. I thought it'd be more difficult! I'm going to try all of these, thanks everyone :)
posted by harriet vane at 1:38 AM on January 5, 2013

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