Growing herbs is the first step for many people in creating a garden and growing your own food. Fresh herbs just can’t be beat, and constantly going to a market to buy herbs is expensive and tedious. Growing herbs is also ideal for beginners since herbs don’t require much space and grow quickly.
In fact, they grow so well that gardeners quickly find themselves with so many herbs that need to be used. Since herbs are grown for their strong, powerful flavors, it’s important to know how to preserve fresh herbs so that you can use these flavors for months.
Most herbs only keep their freshness for a few days after being picked, which is why store-bought herbs hardly last long. Also, most herbs aren’t cold hardy and will stop producing new leaves as the temperatures drop. So, if you can’t grow an herb garden indoors, then you definitely need to harvest what you have before the winter arrives.
Another indicator to harvest is when an herb plant begins to flower. This is called “bolting” because the plant sends up a strong stalk with a flower on it, which uses all the plant’s nutrients to feed the flower and produce seeds.
When the plant bolts its leaves are at maximum flavor plus this is a sign that the plant is at the end of its life and will soon die- so you should collect as many tasty leaves as you can!
Thankfully, there are many ways you can preserve and store herbs, including different forms of drying, freezing, and infusing. It’s also great that you can do any of these ideas with any herbs that you have!
Storing Fresh Herbs in the Fridge
Freshly clipped parsley in the fridge to be used later.
Whether you just harvested or you have store-bought herbs, the most simple and direct way to store fresh herbs is by keeping them in the fridge. However, fresh herbs will only last in the fridge for 1 to 2 weeks.
This method works well if you have a small amount of herbs and intend to use them in the coming days. This is also the best way of maintaining their flavor and texture for optimal freshness.
You don’t need to be any expert to know how to preserve fresh herbs in the fridge! To keep herbs fresh in the fridge for the longest amount of time, place them in a cup with the stems submerged in an inch of water and change the water every couple days. Like this, the herbs can last for 2 weeks in the fridge.
Propagating Fresh Herbs
Another way to keep cut herbs fresh is to start propagating them! If you keep herb clippings in a glass of water- at room temperature, not in the fridge- the stems will start growing roots and continue to grow in the water.
For propagating, you do need clippings with stems, not just the herb leaves. Simply keep the clippings in a few inches of water and watch the roots grow! You can even grab clippings from a few different plants and make a whole herb garden propagation station.
While the roots are growing, the leaves will stay fresh and can be used, then after 1 to 2 weeks the roots will be formed enough for the clippings to be planted. From these clippings, full plants will grow and you’ll have plenty of fresh herbs!
Propagating is a great way to keep growing from the same plant, even if it has bolted and is dying. If you have clippings because it’s getting too cold outside for your herbs, keep in mind that you’ll need to propagate indoors as well.
Propagating is more practical if you have a few handfuls of herbs, but not so much if you’ve fully harvested several plants. This definitely can be done with large amounts of herbs, it will just require more space.
Freezing fresh herbs is a super popular method because it’s easy to know how to preserve fresh herbs in the freezer. Storing herbs in the freezer also preserves them for years, so this is a reliable way to save fresh herbs.
To keep the herbs intact and from sticking together, spread them all out on a baking sheet and place the sheet in the freezer. Once they’re frozen, place in an airtight bag or tupperware container.
If you don’t have the space, it definitely works to skip the step with the baking sheet and freeze the herbs in a baggie or container. It tends to be easier to freeze in a bag, since a frozen tupperware container is difficult to open.
Keeping herbs in the freezer will keep fresh herbs from decomposing or growing mold, but it doesn’t preserve the freshness as well. So, when you thaw the frozen herbs to use as ingredients, you’ll want to use a little more than you would of fresh herbs.
Also, once thawed the texture of the herbs will be much softer and wilted. Frozen herbs don’t work well as garnish like fresh herbs do, and are better mixed with other ingredients.
Making an “herbal cigar” is a similar process as rolling herbs into a bundle to burn, except you’re freezing it instead of drying.
Making an herbal cigar is just a nickname for this method of freezing- you’re not actually rolling a cigar! This method is better for herbs with large, flat leaves like cilantro, chervil, parsley, sage, and tarragon.
What you do is stuff the herbs at the bottom of an airtight bag, so they’re all packed into the last inch or two of the bag. You want to just use the herb leaves and not the stems for this.
Roll the bag up, from bottom to top, so that all the air is pressed out. Then use rubber bands to keep the bag rolled up and place it in the freezer like this.
When you’re ready to use the herbs, unroll the bag and take out the “herbal cigar” and cut off however much you need. Once the leaves have all frozen together, it does really look like a cigar! Put the rest back in the bag and in the freezer to save for later.
Freezing in Ice Cubes
Many home gardeners like to freeze herbs in ice cubes so that it’s easier to get them out and use them. By freezing in ice cubes, they’re already portioned and you can just pop out however many you need.
It’s best to mince the herb leaves first, then put them in an ice tray and top off with water. Make sure to remove the hard stem so that once the cubes are thawed, everything is already cut as it needs to be.
Another great thing about preserving herbs like this, is that you can personalize it in so many ways! You can make ice cubes with one single herb or make a mixture, like a mediterranean spice ice cube.
You can even top the cubes with broth instead of using water, and some people even like to add a bit of oil or salt so they’re completely ready to go! The ice cubes are great for adding to soups that they can melt into.
Freezing a Puree
You can use a food processor to make a large batch of puree or pesto at once.
Another way to prep fresh herbs and store for a later use is to make a puree or pesto ahead of time and then freeze it. A puree will also have a very concentrated flavor that can be added to any sauce or marinade.
Using a blender or food processor, add in all of your herbs you want to store, either all the same or a mixture of herbs. To make a puree, simply blend all the herbs until they’re finely chopped, then add 1 or 2 tablespoons of oil until you get a smooth texture.
The oil will help create a creamy texture for the puree, but also helps with preservation because the coating will prevent freezer burn. You can also make a pesto out of the herb puree by adding a few more ingredients, like nuts or cheese depending on what you prefer.
Whether a puree or a pesto, you can store this in a tupperware container in the freezer for several months up to one year, at which point you might start getting freezer burn.
Herbs drying in bowls and plates on a table.
Other than freezing, drying herbs is a go-to for how to preserve fresh herbs and as long as they’re completely dried, they’ll last for years stored in an airtight container.
To dry your herbs, spread them all out on a rack and place somewhere cool, dry, and with good air circulation. If you leave them on a baking sheet instead of a rack, you should flip them after several hours, since the rack allows for air circulation on the underside as well.
At normal room temperature, the herbs will be completely dried after 24 hours. You can also place the rack outside to sun dry the herbs, just make sure to bring the rack in at night and to avoid extreme humidity.
If you don’t have much space or a drying rack, you can always place the herbs on the oven rack and leave the door open to air dry. You can also turn it to the lowest heat possible and leave the herbs to dry for several hours.
If you have a dehydrator, this will work well! Set it to 95 to 115 F and leave the herbs for about an hour and a half, however the thicker herbs- like rosemary– could take up to 3 hours.
Dried lavender for later use.
Regardless of the method you take, it’s important that the herbs are completely dried so that mold never develops. As long as they’re fully dry, dried herbs can be stored at room temperature for years.
Even though dried herbs won’t spoil for years, their flavor will decrease after the first 3 months. One way to preserve the flavor is to keep the leaves whole, because breaking them up releases the flavor and therefore diminishes the flavor of the stored leaves.
Make sure to store the dried herbs in a dark place to prevent decay from light and in airtight containers to prevent bugs.
Hanging Herbs to Dry
Another way to dry herbs is by hanging them, which is just about as easy as drying them on a rack. All you need to hang herbs is a rubber band!
Put the herbs you want to dry in a bundle and wrap a rubber band around the stems to keep them all bound together. Hang the bundle stem-side up from the rubber band on a hook. Try to keep the bundle away from the sink, stove, or dishwasher, wherever there might be extra moisture in the air.
The fresh herbs will dry within a couple hours, depending on the temperature and humidity of your home, but definitely after hanging overnight.
Healthy fennel tops that will die and completely dry up.
This method is referred to as vine drying because it’s typically used with harvesting and drying beans. With bean plants, the gardener leaves the beans on the plant until the plant dies and completely dries up, which means the beans have too.
The same idea can be applied to herbs, where if you see your plant has gone to flower, just leave it to die and dry up and then collect the dried herbs. Herbs like dill, caraway, mustard, and fennel all dry well with this method, because they all have similar plant and flower structures.
For these plants, the herbal leaves wilt and dry very quickly when they die, so the idea is to not harvest the leaves on the plants and wait until they’ve dried on their own. As long as it doesn’t rain on your plants, you can collect them once they’re shriveled and wilted.
You’ll want to bring them in and dry them a bit longer to ensure they’re fully dried before storing.
Preserving with Salt
Salt-preserved herbs also make for great gifts!
Drying herbs with salt is an ancient practice that has been continued for centuries, and is still practiced today because it works so well! This method is also very easy and stores herbs for several months.
To preserve herbs with salt, take a clean glass jar and cover the bottom with salt. Then, pack in whole leaves to create a layer of herbs, and then cover that with salt. You continue like this, alternate between layers of herbs and salt, until you completely fill the jar.
Once full, place the jar either in the fridge or in a cellar or cold pantry. You’ll see the next day that the herbs have lost some volume. Add in more layers to refill the jar to the top.
It’s recommended to use coarse sea salt since this has the best texture for layering, but kosher and pickling salt works too. If you’re using table salt, check to make sure there’s no iodine as this will disrupt the preservation process.
You’ll notice after a few days that a liquid has formed at the bottom of the jar, but this isn’t anything to worry about. Salt draws out moisture and in a closed jar, this moisture accumulates on the bottom.
When you use these herbs, keep in mind that they’ve already been salted and will have salt residue on them, so there’s no need to add more in your cooking. Plus, the salt in the jars will have the flavor of the herbs and can be used!
You can also do this same process with sugar! Some herbs that would be great for preserving with sugar could be lavender, peppermint, or vanilla.
Homemade Herbal Butter / Marco Verch / CC 2.0
An herbal butter is actually super easy, and only involves mixing in the herbs you want to preserve- not actually making the butter from scratch!
All you need to do is finely chop up the herbs you want to use, mix them with butter, and store the butter. You can keep this in the fridge to use for weeks, or store in the freezer for several months. Some people even put herbal butter in ice cubes to portion it!
Herbal Infused Oils
Sage and rosemary infused oil that I made at the beginning of the summer, when we had a crazy amount of sage.
Making an infused oil is also very easy and is a great way to preserve the flavor of your herbs. This method doesn’t actually preserve the herbs, but extracts the flavor so that every time you use the oil, you get the flavor of the herb you used.
All you do to infuse an oil is cook lots of the fresh herbs in oil. When heated up, the essential flavor and aroma of the leaves is released and soaked into the oil. Since oils won’t spoil for years, this is a way to access the flavor of the herb without needing it fresh.
For a strong oil, do a 1:2 ratio of fresh herbs to oil and the more you do this, you can decide if you want the flavor more or less strong.
Put all the fresh herbs in a large pan and make sure they’re completely covered in oil. Cook the oil on low heat for about 10 minutes. You want the herbs to be well cooked, but not fried!
Strain out the herbs and store the oil in a dark glass bottle at room temperature. If you want, you can place some of the cooked herbs inside the bottle as decoration.
This process isn’t quite the same as preserving with salt, since that’s more about preserving while this method infuses the herbal flavor in the salt.
To make an herbal salt, finely chop or blend the herbs you want to use. Again, you can either do all one herb or make a mixture- thyme, savory, and mustard are a great combination for this method!
Then lay out the herbs on a baking sheet and cover in salt- you can also add pepper or minced garlic if you want to make a complete spice mix. Leave the baking sheet out at room temperature for one day to completely dry out.
Use this mixture just as you would use salt for an added herbal flavor. Store in an airtight container at room temperature and it will last up to one year!
Making an herb infused honey is as easy as it is lovely! Plus, you don’t need to be a beekeeper to know how to preserve fresh herbs with honey.
Because it’s so thick, honey has a strong capacity to retain flavor, so it’s a great carrier. Plus, honey can literally last for hundreds of years and can preserve the flavor of fresh herbs just as long.
To get started, finely chop or blend the herbs you want to use and put them in a clean glass jar. Then just cover the herbs with honey, put the lid on, and store the honey in a dark place. After about one week the honey will be strongly flavored.
As long as it’s stored in an airtight container, honey doesn’t go bad, so you can keep this herbal honey as long as you need- this also makes it a great gift!
The honey can be used for teas, marinades, vinaigrettes, or sauces, and even beauty products!
Similarly to honey, vinegar is a great carrier for flavor because it absorbs flavor and can be stored indefinitely. Preserving with vinegar is another traditional form of preserving that outdates fridges and freezers.
Start with a clean glass jar and place in the herbs you’re using, but keep them in whole leaves instead of chopped up because you’ll be removing the herbs later. A light vinegar, like white or white wine vinegar, works best as a carrier of flavor.
Pour the vinegar over herbs and fill the jar, leaving a ¼ inch headspace. Put the lid on tightly and store in a cool and dark place. After about one month, the flavor will be fully soaked into the vinegar.
Once it’s ready, take out the herbs and strain the vinegar to remove any sediments and compost the herbs. The vinegar will be packed with flavor and can be used in any dressing or sauce, and will last for years!
Never Run out of Herbs
With so many ways to preserve fresh herbs, there’s no reason not to grow your own and always have a stash on hand. Especially considering that salt, oil, and vinegar are super common ingredients that you can use in anything, you can have access to flavorful herbs anytime you want!
Most herbs are really easy to grow, can be grown on a balcony or container, and they give you a bounty of fresh herbs! And now that you know how to preserve fresh herbs, you’ll know exactly what to do with your harvest.