Homemade herbs and spices are magical. If you’ve never tried them I highly recommend switching from store bought today! Its cheaper, easy to do, and the taste will blow your mind! In fact, it’s super easy to grow your own herbs, even in your kitchen, no yard required!
Once your herbs start coming in, trim often to promote additional growth and you’ll have a huge supply through your growing season! You’ll need to trim appropriately to the type of herb, but luckily for you, I have a cheat sheet for some common types of herbs as a printable below! All herbs should be cut in the morning before it gets hot and after the morning dew has dried, this preserves color and flavor longer, and captures the essential oils before the days heat removes it!
PREPARING HERBS FOR PRESERVING
A trimming can last unwashed in the refrigerator for approximately 3 days before it will begin to wilt. Once washed it should be patted dry with a paper towel and used within 24 hours or preserved! To properly wash, simply use cold water, gently rub the leaves to ensure all dirt and bugs are off, then pat dry with a towel, and leave to air dry completely on a towel.
Were going to touch on a few different ways of preserving your fresh herbs! Freezing your herbs allows you to capture the strong flavor of fresh cut herbs and keep it fresh tasting longer, but the herbs themselves will expire faster. Drying will remove a bit of the flavor, but can last years if stored properly! This means no moisture, and air tight. But its important to note that after a year they will begin to lose potency so make sure you use your herbs often!
Fresh Whole: This is the easiest, after you wash your herb, and dry on a towel, simply place on a baking sheet and place in your freezer. Once frozen, place the pieces in a zip-lock bag and back in your freezer. When you need one you’ll have to defrost it, so putting wax or parchment paper between pieces will ensure you can use them individually as opposed to using the whole batch at once. As long as they are frozen they should last approximately 3 months in the freezer before disintegrating. To defrost simply remove what you need from the freezer and place in the refrigerator approximately 24 hours prior to use. Do not refreeze! Use immediately once thawed because they will begin to wilt very quickly!
Fresh in Oil: Take your newly cleaned and towel dried herb and chop up! You can mince, finely chop, even grind it up in a mortar and pestle. Measure your amount, and mix with equal amounts of olive oil. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze. Once they are frozen you can move the cubes into a bag or air tight container and they should last 3 months in the freezer. No need to defrost these! Simply pop the cube into your pan and let it warm the oil! *Note: other oils could probably be used, but may change the taste and consistency of the cubes! You’ll have to experiment with your preferred oil and let me know!
Hang Dry: Once your bunch is patted dry, tie together using string, twine, even a rubber band will work. Hang the bunch in an area where air can get to all sides and does not get direct sunlight. This process can take up to 2 weeks so it requires patience. However hang drying will provide the best flavor of all the drying methods. Some herbs cannot handle this method due to too much moisture and will mold before they dry. Refer to the printable for more help!
Bag Dry: After your herbs have been patted dry, grab a brown paper bag. Use a knife or whole punch to put some holes in the sides of the bag for air circulation. Then grab approximately 5 of your herbs by the end of the stem and insert into the bag, leaf ends first. Tie string, twine, or a rubber-band around the open side of the bag and the stems sticking out, and hang somewhere to dry. This is similar to just air drying, it may take an extra week (2-3) as air has a harder time getting to it, but it limits dust and moisture and light. This won’t work for moisture heavy herbs, but works to catch seeds that may fall as well!
Microwave Dry: After washing, lay out herbs on a couple layers of paper towels on a microwave safe plate and cover with an additional towel. (A paper plate works as well)! Microwave on high for 1 minute, with additional 15 second bursts as needed. It may take 3-10 minutes depending on the herb and the amount. Your herb will crumble when touched. This process is ideal for store bought herbs because there’s no way of telling how old those herbs are. It also works well for herbs with heavy moisture.
Oven Dry: Place your herbs on a parchment lined cookie sheet after they have been patted dry. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Most herbs should be done in 1-4 hours. *Note: The high heat will cause the herbs to lose some potency and color, this is good in a pinch, but not recommended for drying your herbs! Herbs will crumble when touched when they are done.
Dehydrator Dry: After washing and patting dry, lay your herbs on a dehydrator tray lined with parchment paper. Make sure they don’t overlap to ensure equal drying. Turn your tray(s) on to 125 degrees Fahrenheit, or the lowest setting depending on your type of dehydrator. Length depends on they type of herb and the amount of trays used. Herbs that don’t retain moisture may be done as soon as two hours, moisture heavy herbs may take five or six. These numbers can vary if you have additional trays going. Dehydrators are great for large batches of herbs and all types. *Note that if you have multiple types going at once, smells may infuse with each other.
STORING DRIED HERBS
Once you’ve dried your herbs there are a variety of things you can do to store it. The important thing is to keep them in an airtight container and out of direct sunlight. Or if you want them on your counter, get a dark tinted container to keep them safe. Here’s what to do with your herbs after they are dry:
- Keep them whole, although they will be brittle and likely crumble under its own weight!
- Chop them up into a tiny pieces to use in any recipe or garnish!
- Crumble them!
- Grind them using a mortar and pestle into a fine powder!
USING YOUR HERBS
Using fresh versus dried herbs will have different flavors so its important to use the appropriate amount depending on which! Use these amounts as guidelines for substituting one form of an herb for another:
1 Tablespoon fresh herb
1 teaspoon dried herb
¼ teaspoon powdered herb
The next step to preserving your herbs is creating mixtures! Infused honeys, oil’s, vinegar’s and waters, as well as herbal spice blends! Stay tuned for the next segment of Herbs 101!
[RELATED: Introduction to Fruit Leather Dehydration]