If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ll know that I’m a BIG advocate of home-growing herbs, fruits and veggies.
Preserving fresh herbs allows you to enjoy their vibrant, fragrant flavour all year round, and it’s really easy to do. In this article I’ll take you through three simple methods of preserving at home.
Plenty of herbs are easily grown in the summertime in UK gardens, and they’re relatively low maintenance. If you’re interested in getting started, you can read my article on growing herbs in your garden here. Herbs will thrive with very little attention from you, and it’s often the case that I’ll end up with a surplus of herbs because I can’t use them up as fast as they grow! That’s what makes home-preserving such a good idea.
There are three great ways of preserving fresh herbs: freezing, air drying and oven drying. Let’s take a look at the benefits of each.
Freezing fresh herbs
Freezing is a great way of preserving tender, leafy herbs like basil, coriander and parsley, as it preserves essential oils to lock in that summery freshness all year round. Rinse individual leaves, and lay out in a single layer on a baking sheet for freezing. Then, move the frozen leaves into a ziplock bag or other container so you can select however many you need.
I also love using standard ice cube trays to freeze portion-sized amounts of chopped herbs – though you might want to purchase a few trays that are the designated herb-freezing ones! Fill the cube tray half full with the herbs, then top up with water, stir and freeze as normal. You could also use stock or broth for this
for an extra flavour hit. Oil can also be used in place of water in this method, which is great for pesto – just blend your chosen herbs with olive or rapeseed oil and pour in to the ice cube trays before freezing in the same manner. Once the cubes are frozen, they can be popped out and stored in a ziplock bag for space saving easy access.
I’m also a fan of blending herbs with butter that’s been allowed to soften at room temperature. My favourite is a delicious garlic butter where roasted, chopped garlic and salt are mixed with flat leaf parsley, then shaped into a roll and wrapped in greaseproof paper for freezing. Herb butter will also stay fresh in the fridge for about two weeks, and is a great addition to lots of tasty dishes.
Oven drying fresh herbs
Oven drying is a quick method of preserving herbs, and is ideal for humid weather. Just preheat your oven to a low heat (about 80C/140F) and line a baking sheet with parchment. Pluck the leaves from the stems of
the herbs you’re drying, wash them thoroughly and pat dry. This method is great for drying basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, sage and more.
Lay the herbs on the sheet (it’s OK to let them overlap a little), and heat for 2-4 hours, leaving the oven door slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape. If your oven is gas-powered, simply open the door for a minute or so halfway through drying time – but in each of these methods, please bear safety in mind and don’t let any marauding children or pets approach! Check the herbs regularly – if they crumble easily to the touch, they’re ready.
Allow your dried herbs to cool completely before crumbling and decanting them into sealable containers – any moisture will cause mould. If you’re dealing with a real herb surplus, pretty jars full of freshly dried herbs make a lovely, thoughtful gift – they’ll keep for up to a year.
Herbs can also be dried using a dehumidifier, but not everybody has access to one of these nifty things.
Air drying fresh herbs
This is probably my favourite method of drying fresh herbs, because it just looks so lovely. It’s worth noting it takes a bit of time, and arguably doesn’t preserve those tasty essential oils as well as quicker ways of preserving. This method is best used with stalky herbs with smaller leaves like oregano, thyme, marjoram and rosemary.
Simply snip lengths of your chosen herbs off with plenty of stalk at the end, then gather these into bunches and secure the stalks together with an elastic band or twine. The herbs can then be hung upside down in a dry, shady place and left to dry until the leaves crumble to the touch. I love to use a hanging clothes drier to hang the herbs, as it’s space-efficient and I already have one to hand.
Once the herbs are dried satisfactorily, break off the leaves and crumble into sealable jars, where they’ll keep for up to a year.