Growing your own herbs can be incredibly satisfying and once you have correctly harvested your homegrown herbs you need to learn how to preserve them. For beginners tips on harvesting herbs please read this blog post.
As a rule, herbs always taste best when used straight after harvesting, however sometimes you simply cannot use all the herbs you harvested. This is when correct preservation methods come in handy.
How To Dry Your Herbs
For preserving your herbs long-term we’d recommend drying them. Drying is the best method to use for herbs such as oregano, sage, mint, lavender, thyme, rosemary, lemon balm and marjoram.
Herbs that have been dried can last for two to three years but ideally need to be used within a year.
There are five main ways you can dry your herbs to preserve them:
• Hanging drying
• Tray drying
• Oven drying
• Microwave drying
• Dehydrator drying
Please note the two we recommend first are the hanging and tray methods. Drying with heat including using ovens, microwaves and dehydrators can cause the herbs to lose their flavors, colors, and medicinal potency.
The best way to dry low moisture herbs such as sage, mugwort, parsley, rosemary or thyme is to hang them. You need to cut bunches of the plant and rinse them under cool water. Use string to tie the cuttings into small bunches. Hang the bunches upside down in a dark ventilated room. They should dry within two to three weeks. To use the dried herbs, you can remove the leaves from the stems and grind or crush them up.
Drying your herbs using the tray method is best for individual leaves or short stemmed herbs. Spread the herbs evenly onto a tray to ensure the air can circulate around each one. This enables them to dry quicker. Place the tray in a warm, well-ventilated room and keep the tray away from direct sunlight. Gently turn the leaves or stems every few days to ensure even drying.
Remember the following drying methods do cause the herbs to lose some flavor and color like we mentioned above.
One of the benefits of oven drying is it’s much quicker than using the tray or hanging methods and you can control the temperature.
Oven drying will only work if your oven can be set at a low temperature. Aim for between 85 and 105 degrees. Or set it at the lowest temperature possible. You may need to leave the oven door slightly open so the herbs don’t overheat. It’s important to keep your eye on the herbs by checking them often. You may need to turn the herbs every now and then to ensure even drying. It should take between 3-4 hours for your herbs to dry.
Paper Bag Drying
This method is best for small batches of harvest herbs. Simply place the cut herbs in a paper bag making sure not to fill it too full. The plants should be in an even layer at the bottom to ensure adequate ventilation throughout the process, so the plants do not mold. Place in a cool, dark, ventilated area where you will remember to shake the paper bag daily. Continue to shake the paper bag throughout the day every 4-5 hours to ensure proper ventilation is being given to each leaf for drying.
If you already own a dehydrator, they can be used to dry your herbs. To start you need to preheat your dehydrator to between 95 and 115 degrees. Rinse your herbs under cool running water to clean them and shake off any excess water. Separate the herbs into single layers onto each of the trays. The total drying time should be between one to four hours depending on your machine. Sometimes drying time can be longer depending on the moisture level of the plant, the outside air temperature and humidity.
How To Freeze Your Herbs
Freezing your herbs is a quick and easy way to preserve your herbs. The best herbs for freezing are chives, basil, parsley, borage, chervil, cilantro, lemongrass, mint, fennel and tarragon. Always wash your herbs before preserving them to ensure they’re clean and gently shake dry. Spread the herbs out on a tray and place them into your freezer. Once frozen, store the herbs in an airtight container and keep them in your freezer. You should use them within six months.
Top Tip: To have perfectly portioned herbs to use in cooking, freeze the herbs in ice cube trays in water or olive oil. When you need to use them, you simply pop one or two ice blocks out of the tray and add it to your cooking.
How To Store Your Herbs
Once you have correctly preserved your herbs it’s important to store them correctly. Once your herbs are dry remove the leaves from the stems and store them in airtight containers or for shorter storing times, herb bags. Keep the containers away from direct sunlight. If you store your herbs correctly, they should remain good to use for up to one year. Freshness in look and smell is one way to tell if your dried herbs are still good.