Preserving Herbs for use all Season

No, it is not the same as fresh; sometimes it’s even better!

This post is an encore of one I wrote a few years ago, so please forgive the late summer rerun!

Ah, those fresh herbs

I admit to being spoiled all summer long when I walk a few feet from my kitchen door to find the beauty of a couple of dozen varieties of fresh herbs at my fingertips. I have whatever I need for any recipe.

The season seems eternal!

Well into November, I have plenty of chives, parsley, oregano, thyme, lemon balm, rosemary, and sage in the garden waiting to be picked, and I’ll use them as long as I can. A little cover of leaves as fall settles in protects them all.

But all too soon, the layer of leaves will be replaced by snow, and I’m left with a few pots of herbs on the windowsill (that I use up in what seems like hours), herbs from the market (never the variety I want), and dried.

Different techniques depending on the herb

I approach each herb differently. I do not dry my parsley or basil, it just doesn’t hold the flavor I want. I cover the parsley with a cold frame, and I’ve been known to harvest it well into December, under the snow!  Last year, I picked fresh parsley for New Year’s day.

I use my fresh basil in pesto and tuck it in the freezer throughout the summer. The more I pick, the more bushed out the plants get, and the bigger the harvest in a few weeks. When we start getting cooler nights and the forecast calls for frost or freezing temperatures, I harvest it all and make a really big last batch to freeze in smaller containers. (recipe here).

Pesto in process

I have tons of chives in my garden; they arrive first in earliest spring, and stay at the party until snow, sometimes beyond. But in late winter I relay on my frozen chive butter and chive oil to see me through. Both are simple. Place a cup of softened butter or plant butter in your food processor and from 1/3 to 1/2 cup of minced chives. Whirl it all up, then place it on a piece of parchment and form into two logs. Wrap each in another layer of plastic wrap. Freeze, then open, thaw just a bit and slice off what you need during the winter, resealing the rest. You can also combine the chives with other herbs from the garden for a mixed herb butter. These are all great on fish or vegetables. My favorite is adding a slice to steamy hot mashed potatoes.

But my most common way to preserve my herbs is simple air drying and storage in an air-tight container. I use this process for peppermint, sage, thyme, oregano, lemon balm, tarragon, and other small leafed herbs.

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Gather your herbs after the morning dew has dried off, and strip the bottom often craggy looking leaves. This will give you a smooth stem to secure. Give them a good shake to release any hitchhikers. Depending on the size of the herbs, you will probably want six to 10 stems in a bundle. A really large bundle will not dry evenly. Use a rubber band to secure. I’ve used string in the past, but if the stems shrink too much, they will slip out of the bundle!

Hang them up where they will get plenty of air circulation and not too much direct sun. After about a week, they should be dry. If you leave them to hang out too long, you’ll run the risk of losing their oils, and thus flavor, even in indirect light, so as pretty as they look hanging, you want to limit that time.

Place the dried herbs on a sheet of waxed paper and roll them gently between your palms. It only takes a few moments. Remove the tough stems, and roll them again gently to get the size you want. Place in a tight container and store out of direct light.

Infused oilsSage oil

I processed sage from my herb bed today and used the stems to infuse some olive oil I know I’ll use at Thanksgiving; just crunch up the leftover stems, place in some oil (I used olive, but you can use any type of vegetable oil as well), bring to a simmer for about five minutes, remove from the heat, and let steep until the oil is completely cool. Strain and place in a bottle. Score another point for using every part of the plant!

An herb infused olive oil will make a beautiful holiday gift! Just add a label and a pretty little ribbon, and you have something from the heart of your home to give to another!

I also make rosemary oil. Rosemary is my problem child. Dried rosemary is difficult to use, you can’t just sprinkle it on a quick dish because it is so tough and, well, like needles! You have to let it lend its flavor in long, slow cooking, or sequestered in a bouquet garni. Rosemary is not hardy here, so I use it with great flourish during the growing season, then pot it up and bring it into the house. It does not last long – I overuse it, and it dries out easily, so while it is still healthy and wonderful in flavor and aroma, I infuse some of my favorite olive oil (same method as the sage) with the crushed leaves and stems. Try roasting potatoes or chicken with this! You won’t want to be without it!

Or, flavor some vinegar

My French tarragon ended up in champagne vinegar! Sterilize a bottle or jar in your tarragon vinegardishwasher. Thoroughly clean and dry the tarragon, then bruise it slightly. Immediately put it in a bottle and cover with the champagne or white wine vinegar. Let it set for a few weeks, then strain and rebottle, adding a last beautiful stem of the tarragon if you still have it. This makes a lovely vinaigrette one part vinegar to two or three parts oil depending on how acidic you want it to be. Or, use it in your Béarnaise Sauce!

Quick is not always best

Yes, I know you can dry your herbs quickly in the microwave, but I love the whole process of hanging them up and looking at them for a week or so before putting them away; just my fancy!

Although the fresh herbs from my garden will soon be a thing of the past, the dried herbs will provide tons of flavor. There are some applications, such as roasting vegetables or protein at high heat, where the dried herbs hold up better, while the fresh herbs tend to burn.

They are different, but whether fresh, dried, or frozen, the taste of summer continues throughout the year!

My herb drying system is pretty simple. A piece of kitchen twine strung across the window and hooked over cup hooks. The twine is knotted so that the bundles don’t clump up. The hooks are shower curtain hooks, and I tie the bundles with elastic so that if they shrink, they won’t fall apart.

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64 Comments Add yours

  1. Alicia says:

    The sage oil sounds really easy, I think I’ll have to try that. If you use it, do you need to use sage seasoning as well?

    1. If you are using the oil for something like roasting a chicken, I would still use the herb but cut back on it. If you are sprinkling the infused oil on for example roasted potatoes, you would not need to add extra herbs.

  2. Amie guterres says:

    Wonderful ideas for all my herbs! The basil pesto in the freezer is so good, and now I know what to do with all my extra, massive rosemary plants!

    1. Thanks Amie! The rosemary oil also makes wonderful gifts!

  3. Suzassippi says:

    Thanks for this great information! I finally found some herbs yesterday and just potted them. They will last for a while here and I am happy to have some to use for a bit!

    1. I always get a bit carried away!

      1. Suzassippi says:

        I have indeed missed not having fresh basil and rosemary this summer!

      2. Ah! I’ll save you some!

  4. A move? I hope we hear all about it. Happy packing.

    1. We’re heading a little further north, Charlotte, to be closer to our daughter.

  5. Jovina Coughlin says:

    Very helpful information.

    1. Thank you! It’s always fun to save summer.

  6. Lovely article on the various ways to preserve herbs! I usually just dry them all, but now I have some fresh new ideas 😋

    1. Thank you! There’s so many possibilities.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Good luck with your move !!

    1. Thanks! It will be a process.

  8. Good stuff, will try next season for herbs we had drought recently so not good this year 👍

    1. Sadly, many people, even here in New England, have had a drought to contend with this year. Here’s to a hopeful next year!

  9. Maggie says:

    Wonderful post. My herbs die out in the heat (except y basil, chives, and Thai basil) so I will be replanting soon.

    1. I always look forward to those autumn crops! Like a renewal.

  10. CarolCooks2 says:

    Some helpful hints and tips here, Dorothy, Thank you for sharing 🙂

    1. Thanks for stopping by Carol!

  11. Bernadette says:

    Good luck with your move Dorothy and thanks for the herb tips.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Bernie! First things first, the new espresso machine is up and running!

  12. Gail says:

    I feel your pain at moving. Finally our new house feels like a home. Oddly enough, I find myself using the outdoor kitchen daily. Thanks for the beautiful post on fresh herbs. It keeps me focused on a way to grow, use, and preserve them in Florida! 🌴

    1. I am still in the middle of always feeling that I’ll never know where anything is! Only half my kitchen stuff is here, and I’ve had to finish seasoning my butcher block top on my island, a kind of slow process if done right. Tomorrow, I can actually cut on it!

      1. Gail says:

        I still find myself turning to the wrong drawer or cabinet. 🤣

      2. I’m just setting up my kitchen drawers, and I know once I get all my stuff here, then I will change things around.
        My girlfriend told me she read an article that basically said when one hits her 60s, she should shake everything up, change it all, move, change jobs, etc. That keeps the brain paths functioning and vibrant.
        My brain must be really good just about now!

      3. Gail says:

        My brain is PUMPED! 💥

      4. Now, we’re ready for anything!

      5. Gail says:

        I guess. 🤔🤣

  13. Jenna says:

    There is nothing better than fresh herbs right at your fingertips! So smart to dry them and keep them. Good luck on your move, I hope you are settled soon~

    1. Thank you Jenna. It is going to be a slow process, a little at a time, no actual “moving day.” I’ve got a whole new garden to plan!

  14. lisinmayenne says:

    I love the idea of that frozen herb butter! 😊 I totally agree with you about parsley and basil, I tend to chop them finely and freeze them in ice cube trays topped up with a little water so they can be bagged up in the freezer and thrown into dishes over winter. Good luck with your move, how exciting to have new garden and kitchen!

    1. Freezing them in ice cube trays is a great idea. pop one out, and you immediately add summer to your simmer! 💕

  15. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for your tips. I face the same challenges each fall. I’m going to give your suggestions a tire.

    1. Great! I hope they work out well for you too!

  16. sunisanthosh says:

    Helpful article.

    1. Thank you so much! It’s always good to have a few tricks up one’s sleeve!

  17. Ronit says:

    This is such a great tutorial!
    Good luck with your move! 🙂

    1. Thank you Ronit! It is certainly a process!

      1. Ronit says:

        It is indeed! I’ve moved so many times, and it’s still never easy.

      2. Taking my time, since I don’t have to be out of the other house, has its advantages, and I’m being brutal about editing my stuff! I’m not running an inn any longer!

  18. Nancy says:

    Fabulous information! Sage oil and rosemary oil sound delicious!
    Thanks for sharing all this!

    1. Ah, thanks Nancy! The oils are wonderful uses for the herbs, and herb remnants as well!

  19. This was so helpful Dorothy. I’m going to have my son-in-law read this, he loves fresh herbs but this is how we can make his herb garden stretch! Thank you for sharing all this wonderful information with us! Hugs, C

    1. Oh, you are very welcome Cheryl! Love to keep those wonderful flavors all year, at least in some form.

  20. Such a great satisfaction to preserve your own grown herbs! That butter with chives on steamy hot mashed potatoes must be heavenly delicious!

    1. It’s so good Ribana, and it always reminds me of the herb garden.

  21. terrie gura says:

    I love these tips, Dorothy! I have to say, the images of the herbs hanging to dry make me feel warm and cozy. Something about that is very welcoming! I’m sending you my best as you settle into your new space. Wish I could ride up and help you with the unpacking, or at least pour the wine. 🙂

    1. THanks Terrie. I’m taking this move slowly, packing my favorite things first, weeding out stuff I no longer need. It’s a longer process, but part of my decluttering goal!

  22. Christy B says:

    I learned a lot, Dorothy! I have about a half dozen herbs in containers in the backyard and plan to make your chive butter (freeze then thaw as needed). Thank you for the recipe. I hope your move goes well xxoo

    1. Thank you Christy. Right now we are at the stage where we don’t quite know where to put stuff!

  23. Sherry M says:

    i like to freeze parsley. i just snip it with scissors, shove it into a ziploc bag and into the freezer it goes. lasts for ages and tastes and looks fresh!

    1. Great tip Sherry! It’s such a hardy herb.

  24. This post was so helpful! Thank you!

    1. So glad you found this helpful! Enjoy those beautiful herbs!

  25. Americaoncoffee says:

    So beautiful, authentic and inspiring!♥️♥️♥️

    1. Thank you my friend!

      1. Americaoncoffee says:

        Ditto with Hugs!💞💞💞💞

  26. nancyc says:

    Thanks for these great tips! I’ve had success with growing chives and rosemary in my windowsill in pots year round, but other herbs don’t do as well for me in pots, so these tips for drying are very helpful! 🙂

    1. I like to use them however I can while they are coming on strong!

  27. Thank you for so many great ideas Dorothy!

    1. Ah, you’re very welcome Diane!

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