How To Preserve Fresh Herbs
In this brief guide, we are going to answer the question “How to preserve fresh herbs?”, and discuss the different methods of preserving fresh herbs and the potential implications of preserving fresh herbs.
How To Preserve Fresh Herbs
You can preserve fresh herbs in many ways like storing them in the freezer, using an oven or dehydrator, or preserving them in water or as ice cubes. Since fresh herbs are very useful in daily use and can be used as a flavor enhancer in dishes like detox water, juices, and any other dishes prepared.
The EU produced just 137 thousand tonnes of herbs and spices in 2013; however, it imported over three times this amount. Just 2% of the world’s herbs and spices are produced in Europe, 81% in Asia, 12% in Africa, and 3.7% in Latin America and the Caribbean. North America and Oceania produce <0.1% of global production (1).
How to Preserve Fresh Herbs in the Freezer
Freezing works best for selected types of herbs. It is found that it is best to freeze the following:
- Lemon balm
Freezing is a food preservation method that can potentially deliver a high degree of safety, nutritional value, sensory quality and convenience. The original advantages of freezing, compared to other preservation methods, were mainly in providing better quality vegetables. The essential step in freezing is to lower the temperature of foods with the intention of preventing, or at least minimizing, microbial and chemical changes (4).
When preserving fresh herbs in the freezer, we can choose to freeze them individually, in water, or in oil. This method can be used to store and use herbs for up to one full year.
Freezing Herbs Individually (2,3)
- Before freezing, blanch the cuttings first in order to preserve that bright color.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil.
- Fill another bowl with ice-cold water.
- Set up a layer of paper towels on the countertop.
- Hold the herbs by the stem and carefully plunge them into the boiling water for about 15 -30 seconds.
- Once blanching is done, immediately plunge the herbs into ice water.
- Soak them in the water for about 1 minute then take them out.
- Pat them dry with a towel or a cloth.
- Once completely dried off, remove the leaves and place them in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Place the sheet in the freezer until frozen solid.
- Take them out, transfer them into a plastic bag, remove air, seal the bag, and place them back in the freezer.
This method works best for the use of herbs in drinks, soups, stews, and any other types of cooking.
Freezing Herbs in Water
Another option after washing and drying herbs is to chop them into pieces.
- These herbs can be then layered in each compartment of an ice cube tray.
- Each compartment should be filled about ¾ full with water and then the pieces down under the water.
- The tray should be placed inside the freezer for 24 hours.
- The tray is then removed and top off the compartments with water are checked to ensure herbs are fully submerged.
- Once completely frozen, the cubes are taken out of the tray and stored in a bag labeled with the type of herb and date.
This method works well if you’re planning to use herbs in soups or stews. Simply pop 1 to 2 cubes in to melt while cooking.
Freezing Herbs in Oil (2)
Find an ice cube tray that creates smaller cubes.
Fill the bottom of each compartment with chopped herb pieces.
Top it off with 1 tablespoon of oil.
Place the tray in the freezer.
Once frozen, take the cubes out of the tray and store them in a sealed bag, labeled and dated.
Then these can be used in soups, stews, or sauces to add flavor.
How to Preserve Fresh Herbs by Drying (2,3)
The key to preserving fresh herbs in the pantry is to dry them out completely. It’s crucial to check that there isn’t a hint of moisture on them during storage. Otherwise, herbs to be stored might get moldy.
Drying is an ancient and unparalleled physical procedure of food conservation used for direct preparation of food products as well as for further processing in the food industry. It has always been a valuable and common practice of conservation, ensuring the availability of food and medicinal products all year long (5).
Three most common ways:
Preserving Fresh Herbs Naturally
This method requires some kitchen string or rubber bands, scissors, and clothespins.
To start with,
- Group herbs into bunches, take about a bunch of the stems together at the bottom, and then wrap them tightly with string or rubber bands.
- Hang them in a dark and dry area upside down.
- Keep the herbs there for around 5-10 days until they turn brittle.
- Now transfer the herbs into an airtight jar or container.
- Do not crumble the herbs until directly before using them( allows releasing the fragrance and flavor during cooking).
In a study, herbs were dried by different drying methods and air-dried samples showed the highest total phenolic content and antioxidant capacity of all the samples. In air-drying, the fresh herbs were kept at ambient temperature. It took more than 2 weeks to get the herbs completely dried. During this period, metabolically active plants lost moisture slowly and might have sensed the moisture loss as stress. Plants, in general, produce phenolic compounds in stress response as a defense mechanism (6).
Preserving Fresh Herbs with an Oven
To speed up the drying process, the oven can be used very efficiently.
These include the following steps.
- Turn the oven on to the coolest setting (usually about 200 degrees Fahrenheit).
- Once the herbs are washed, dry them enough.
- Spread the herbs out in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Place the sheet in the oven for about 2-4 hours until the herbs are completely dry and brittle.
- Let the herbs cool down and then remove the woody stems if any remain.
- Store these dried herbs in a tightly sealed container for further use.
In a study, rosemary, motherwort, and peppermint were dried by different methods and temperatures. Sun-dried or low temperature (40°C or 104°F) oven-dried herbs exhibited significantly higher antioxidant capacity than fresh samples, suggesting low-temperature drying may be a good postharvest means to store medicinal/culinary herbs. Exposure to a high temperature (70°C or 158°F) oven-drying caused significant antioxidant loss (7).
Preserving Fresh Herbs with a Dehydrator
Using a dehydrator is another way of preserving fresh herbs. This involves the following steps:
- Preheat the dehydrator by setting it to 95-115 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Wash the herbs, drain any extra water off.
- Place them in a single layer on the dehydrator tray.
- Let the herbs dry for 1-4 hours(check them from time to time).
- Once fully done remove them from the dehydrator and cool them.
- Crumble the herb or break the stem.
- Store the herbs in an airtight container.
All dried herbs have around a shelf life of 1 year, thus, they can be enjoyed for many months to come.
Other FAQs about Herbs that you may be interested in.
What can I substitute for marjoram?
What can I substitute for rosemary?
How to preserve Italian oregano
In this brief guide, we answered the question “How to preserve fresh herbs?”, and discussed the different methods of preserving fresh herbs and the potential implications of preserving fresh herbs.
If you have any questions or comments please let us know.
- Galvin-King, Pamela, Simon A. Haughey, and Christopher T. Elliott. Herb and spice fraud; the drivers, challenges and detection. Food Control, 2018, 88, 85-97.
- Lambert,A. Preserving Herbs. 2022. University of South Dakota.
- Harvesting, cooking with and preserving herbs. University of Illinois.
- Evans, Judith A., ed. Frozen food science and technology. John Wiley & Sons, 2009.
- Calín-Sánchez, Ángel, et al. Comparison of traditional and novel drying techniques and its effect on quality of fruits, vegetables and aromatic herbs. Foods, 2020, 9, 1261.
- Hossain, M. B., et al. Effect of drying method on the antioxidant capacity of six Lamiaceae herbs. Food Chem, 2010, 123, 85-91.
- Yi, Weiguang, and Hazel Y. Wetzstein. Effects of drying and extraction conditions on the biochemical activity of selected herbs. HortScience, 2011, 46, 70-73.