Late summer is right about when we start asking ourselves why we needed eight individual basil plants and four different varieties of mint. (Hey, it seemed like a great idea back in herb-starved March.) Once we’ve eaten as much fresh pesto as we can stomach and have given away enough dill, marjoram, and thyme to outfit a small herbarium, it’s time to consider plan B: freezing and drying those herbs for later use. We’ve rounded up a few simple methods below for folks who don’t have a dehydrator on hand. Read on for details—and give us a yell in the comments box if you have tips to share.
We looked to Farmer Sarah at Massachusetts’ Red Fire Farm for advice—and seriously, y’all, her method couldn’t be simpler, which means there’s no good reason to let any more precious herbs go to waste.
1. Wash freshly cut herbs; then pat or spin dry.
2. Bunch a few sprigs together with a rubber band and hang along a string or from a clothes-drying rack in a moisture-free spot (see photo above).
3. Wait about a week for herbs with smaller leaves (oregano, marjoram, thyme), maybe two for things with large leaves (basil).
4. When the herbs are brittle to the touch, crumble the leaves off of the stems into a bowl and store in an air-tight container, like a Mason jar. Don’t forget to label your jars!
DRYING IN THE MICROWAVE
HOMEGROWN member Jenni is a fan of this approach to drying basil—crazy fast and crazy easy, she reports.
1. Wash and thoroughly dry all basil leaves.
2. Spread an individual layer of basil leaves on a dry paper towel and place it on your microwave's plate. Cover the leaves with another paper towel.
3. Let the microwave run for 30 seconds. Turn leaves over and let it run for another 30 seconds.
4. Repeat as necessary. (It only took me 1 1/2 minutes; since microwaves vary, you may need to adjust the time/heat level.)
5. Before storing the dried leaves, whole or crushed, ensure that all moisture has been depleted.
Harriet suggests salting herbs, Swedish style. Has anyone tried this method? Success? Not so much? Comment below, please! We'd like to know how it went.
1. Pluck leaves, wash, and dry completely. It’s OK to mix several herb varieties in one batch.
2. Blend with salt at a ratio of seven cups herbs to ¼ cup salt.
3. Store in the fridge in an air-tight container and use as a seasoning in cooking.
We borrowed this method and the two below from Tory, a lean, green herb-saving machine.
1. Pluck whole leaves from stems (mint, parsley, etc.).
2. Wash and thoroughly dry the leaves.
3. Roll them into a log-shaped bundle (see right).
2. Wrap that bundle in plastic or a freezer bag, secure it with a rubber band or twine, and toss it into the freezer.
FREEZING, PESTO STYLE, IN ICE-CUBE TRAYS
For a long time, we thought pesto was synonymous with basil. Then one day we ended up with an unholy amount of spinach and started to wonder. Turns out you can make a pesto base with all kinds of green stuff—spinach, kale, parsley, cilantro, and on and on—and it’s a great way to preserve your herbs. (Just skip the cheese and the nuts pre-freezing; you can add those once you’ve thawed the cubes for use.)
1. Pluck leaves from stems.
2. Wash and pat or spin dry.
3. Dump your leaves into a food processor with some garlic and olive oil. If you’re making a pesto base, aim for about 2/3 cup olive oil to 2 cups herbs. Process until mostly smooth.
4. Pour into ice-cube trays and stick in the freezer (see right).
5. Once the ice cubes have frozen solid, you can pop them out and store them in the freezer in plastic bags. The ice-cube-size pellets are perfect for throwing in dishes for extra punch while cooking—or simply thaw and add Parmesan and pine nuts (or your nut of choice) for ready-to-use pesto.
AKA herbal ice cubes—a method that works especially well for mint.
1. Pluck leaves from stems and wash.
2. Place leaves in the cells of an ice-cube tray.
3. Fill cells with water or lemon water (see right).
5. Toss frozen cubes into water, iced tea, or a blend of San Pellegrino and your spirit of choice. Cheers!
Got an herbaceous idea to share? Post it in the comments box below and keep the conversation rolling. If you’re not a member already, you might consider joining the Herb Lovers group, where you can give and get advice on all things herbal. Looking for more HOMEGROWN 101s? Download a how-to card on making kale pesto; then visit the 101 library for all kinds of things to plant, grow, cook, preserve, make, craft, and freeze.
This year I had an over abundance of basil, so I tried the 'pesto' style freeze method (using my own recipe but basically the same as this page) and already used it in a Chicken Saute' with Pesto and fresh vegetables from our garden. It was perfect! Add just the right amount of flavor and texture to the dish to make it magnificent! And I had lots of sage I needed to dry so I dried it in our kitchen by hanging it bunched from a 'structure'. I haven't taken it down because it looks so cool :) Thanks for the tips on this page it was very helpful and I will come back if I need a refresher!
Hey, Christy! So glad the pesto was a hit—although I bet, with your cooking chops, pretty much everything turns out beautifully. If you're game for it, you should post a photo of your hanging sage. I bet folks (me, included) would love to see it! ~Jennifer
Thanks Jennifer! Some pictures, it may be kind of hard to see the Sage in the right upper corner but hard to get a cool picture of it, take my word I think it's cool ;-) I'm always excited to put pictures of my food up, it's pretty funny to look inside my pictures folder and see random shots of food I have taken, but hey, it makes me smile and remember tastes and creations! Happy Gardening and preserving to all!
Christy: These are *awesome* pix.