How to preserve herbs like you and basil are BFFs

I originally wrote this post for Niagara Life magazine.

Most herbs would agree — I am probably their worst enemy, alongside a lawn mower.

Save for chives and lavender, I struggle to grow herbs in my garden. The heaps I get in my weekly vegetable baskets from a local farmer are really just flavourful races against time to use them up before they disintegrate into brown liquid in my fridge. Oh, the guilt that comes with wasting them. But how much dill, parsley and thyme can one human possibly eat in a sitting?

The antidote to my careless ways was to get smart with my sage and be more thoughtful with my tarragon. I’ve started preserving herbs to use when the garden is another summer memory, and to spare having to dart out, last minute, to the grocery store to buy a clam shell of coriander from far-off places.

Here are three simple ways to alleviate guilt, save time, and preserve that bounty of parsley, those mounds of mint and loads of lavender:

Hanging herbs to dry

Thanks Shutterstock for showing perfectly how to dry herbs.

Drying Herbs

It doesn’t get easier than drying herbs to preserve them. No fancy equipment is needed — only scissors and string, twist ties or rubber bands. I use this method for mint, lemon balm and verbena, lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme, and turn to them when the need for a soothing cup of tea sets in, or when winter cooking demands robust flavours.

Cut long stems of herbs from your garden and gather them in small bunches. Tie the bunches tightly with string, twist ties or elastics around the stems and hang upside down in a dry, well-ventilated, clean space.

I often hang mine from a knob on a kitchen cupboard that doesn’t see a lot much action. If you have several bunches, hang a line of string in your garage and suspend herb bunches upside down from it.

Alternatively, if you have a clean screen, cover it with cheese cloth and lay herbs in a single layer. Ensure there’s airflow all around the screen, and your herbs should dry beautifully.

You’ll know they’re dry when they get crumbly. Leave them in tact, though, until you need them.

When it’s time to steep or cook with them, crumble them with your hands to help release the essential oils, and add to your recipe. In the meantime, store them in an airtight container to keep them fresh.

Freezing herbs in water

Freezing Herbs in water

Dill, basil, parsley and arugula are prime candidates for this method. Simply wash and chop the leaves, and place one to two tablespoons of loosely packed herbs into each cube mould of an ice cube tray. Cover with water and place in the freezer. Once frozen, place the cubes in a ziplock bag and store in the freezer. These are perfect vessels of flavour to add to soups and stews, or to defrost in a fine-mesh sieve if you don’t want to add excess water to a recipe.

Freezing Herbs in oil

Follow the directions above but cover herbs with olive oil instead of water. It’s perfect for basil that you want to convert to pesto when the craving for summer flavours hits in mid-January.

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Category In the Garden, Recipes

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4 responses to “How to preserve herbs like you and basil are BFFs”

  1. Marc says:

    Good information, though unfortunately not actionable for me this year because the basil plants in my garden are pathetic and I think I missed the big bundles of basil at the farmers market. But I recently bought some silicone ice trays to use to freeze herbs, so I’m somewhat prepared for preserving.

    On the subject of herbs, the farmers at the farmers market always sell big bunches of single herbs — thyme or dill or rosemary — probably more than anyone needs. So why don’t they make “mix bunches”? Like 1/3 thyme, 1/3 dill, 1/3 rosemary? It’s mysterious to me — I think they might be good sellers.

  2. Craig Adams says:

    Nice! That first photo, is that white onion in flower, thyme, rosemary, purple lavender and lemon balm? I’ve got the same pair of scissors and the same garden! Wifey makes pesto’s out of everything, puts them in the small 125ml jars, tops them with additional olive oil, and places them in the freezer. Our favourite is the garlic scapes pesto. Scape being the top greens of the garlic plant. A teaspoon of garlic scape pesto with some local honey seems to fight off anything bad! And oh my, the garlic bread we’ve shared! Great read.

    **edited for big thumbs

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