How to Preserve Your Herbs

Whether it’s for flavoring my dishes or making my herbal teas, not a day goes by in the year without my own herbs being part of my daily routine. Of course, during the summer, I gorge myself on freshly picked herbs from the garden or from my pots on the patio. But during the cold season, even if I eat a few herbs grown indoors, it’s mainly the herbs I’ve been careful to preserve over the summer that liven up my meals. To learn how to bank the flavor of herbs, follow the guide!

Photo: Lili Michaud

Choosing the Right Method for Preserving Herbs

Most herbs lend themselves well to drying, while others are best frozen. But it’s important to follow the proper rules to preserve the maximum amount of essential oils. Nothing to do with the little jars of supermarket herbs that have been lying around for years.

Open Air Drying (or Passive Drying)

Air-drying is by far the simplest and most “eco-friendly” (economical and ecological) approach to preserving herbs, as it requires no expensive equipment or energy. There are three possible methods for air-drying: hanging bunches, drying on trellises and drying on trays.

The Best Place for Air-Drying

For best drying conditions, choose a dark, well-ventilated, warm place. This could be a guest room with the curtains closed, a hallway that doesn’t receive direct sunlight, the attic if it’s well-ventilated, or a garden shed, provided that the light from the windows is filtered and no toxic products are stored there. In a pinch, a large closet, provided it’s not too cluttered and air circulates relatively easily.

Hanging Bouquets

Bouquets hanging from a rope. Photo: Lili Michaud

The hanging bunch method is my favorite, because it allows you to dry a large quantity of herbs at the same time and… forget about them. I use it for: thyme, rosemary, sage, marjoram, savory, mint, hyssop, lemon balm, oregano, lemon verbena, small-leaf basil and holy basil.

The first step is to select two to five beautiful stems, then remove the bottom leaves and tie them together with an elastic band. The latter is preferable to a rope, as it holds the stems in place despite the fact that they will shrink as they lose water. What’s more, the operation will be easier when it’s time to hang the bouquets.

Then it’s a matter of hanging the bouquets, making sure they don’t touch each other, using one of these options: a hook fixed to the wall, a hanger or a hanging rope.

Bouquets hanging on a hanger. Photo: Lili Michaud

Mesh Drying

This is a method for drying herbs with large leaves, such as bay, stevia and lovage. You can use a cake rack, an oven rack covered with mosquito netting or cheesecloth. The chosen trellis can be raised by two blocks or suspended between two chairs. Finally, the leaves can be laid out individually.

Drying on mesh. Photo: Lili Michaud

Tray Drying

This method is ideal for parsley and coriander. Simply detach the leaves from the stems (you can keep the stems for flavoring broths), chop finely with a large knife and spread in a thin layer on a tray or large plate.

Le séchage sur plateau. Photo: Lili Michaud

Active Drying

Although it’s possible to dry most herbs using a heat source such as the stovetop oven or a dehydrator, you need to be particularly meticulous, as temperatures over 50°C (122°F) result in the loss of nutrients and essential oils. This is why I don’t recommend drying in a microwave oven.

Storage Dried Herbs

Depending on the plant, the time of harvest and the method chosen, the drying time for herbs will vary from two to ten days. They are ready when the leaves are crumbly and crumble easily. Store them in an airtight glass or metal container, away from light and moisture, in a place with little variation in humidity and temperature. A cupboard above the stove should be avoided. Under the right conditions, your dried herbs will keep for up to two years.

Storage of dried herbs. Photo: Lili Michaud

Freezing Herbs

Freezing lends itself to most herbs. However, I mainly use it for herbs that are difficult to preserve by drying, such as Genovese basil (the most common) and chives. Two methods are available for freezing herbs: freezing whole leaves or freezing in ice cube trays. To freeze whole leaves, simply slip the whole leaves or stems into a freezer bag or plastic or glass container, then freeze as it is, without any preparation. In this way, herbs will keep for two to three months.

Freezing whole herbs. Photo: Lili Michaud

In Ice Cube Trays

Storing in ice cube trays requires a little more work, but it is advantageous in that the herbs will be ready to use when the time comes. What’s more, it allows you to store herbs for longer, easily until the next harvest. To do this, finely chop the herbs and fill the ice cube trays two-thirds full. Cover with water or oil, depending on the herbs and the dishes for which they will be used. I use water for chives in soups, while I prefer oil for basil in sauces. Place the ice cube trays in the freezer for 24 to 48 hours. Then, remove the cubes and place them in freezer bags, plastic or glass containers, and quickly return them to the freezer… after identifying them.

Freezing herbs in oil. Photo: Lili Michaud

That’s it! Now it’s your turn to harness the flavour of your herbs!

Lili Michaud is an urban agronomist, educator and author. For nearly 30 years, she has passed on her passion for growing edible plants and ecological practices through courses and conferences. Lili Michaud is recognized for her professionalism, objectivity and popularizing skills. Many organizations, municipalities and educational institutions regularly call on her services. She is the author of seven books, including Les fines herbes de la terre à la table. Lili Michaud is the recipient of the 2013 Jim Wilson Award from the Garden Writers Association and the 2021 Medal of Agronomic Distinction from the Ordre des agronomes du Québec.

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