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There’s nothing better than having fresh, flavorful herbs on hand. Whether you grow your own or buy from farmer’s markets, sometimes you find yourself with more herbs than you know what to do with. Here are some ideas for ways to preserve or utilize your bounty.
1. Bring them inside. Don’t let the winter frost take your plants away. Many herbs will grow indoors. Try saving only a small portion for cute containers inside, and perhaps using the rest in some of the following ways.
2. Drying herbs on paper towels is one of the easiest ways to preserve them. Rosemary, thyme, parsley, and mint are some herbs that dry with ease and retained flavor. Some others will not result in the same taste and would be best saved another way. The paper-towel method is to place a layer or two of paper towels on a cookie sheet, spread clean leaves on it (possibly repeating with layers like a lasagna), then either sit out or in refrigerator until dry. Check daily and in 2-3 days depending on leaf thickness, you can crumble your dried herbs into spice containers or jars – or grind them with a mortar and pestle.
3. Air-dry herbs by hanging. Tie small bunches of sprigs together and hang upside down in a dark, warm, well-ventilated area for about 2-4 weeks until the leaves crumble off to be stored. If you have the space and time for it, you can hang them somewhere with clothespins, or I put them in brown paper lunch bags with air holes.
4. Dry herbs in the microwave, monitoring closely.
5. Dry herbs in the oven. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees (you want under 200 so you don’t bake them), while you spread clean, dry sprigs out on a cookie sheet. Try to not overlap any so they’ll dry evenly, but no big deal. It is important to keep the oven cracked open the whole time! Set a timer for every 30 minutes to check on them until they look dry and will crumble in your hand. The length of time it will take will depend on the amount of essential oils in each herb. Oregano has more essential oils in it than thyme so will take a longer time (than thyme ha ha).
6. Dry herbs in a dehydrator. Remove stems from leaves, wipe clean, place on dehydrator trays leaving room for air circulation, allow to dehydrate based on machine’s instructions per leaf size, then package in clean jars or airtight bags. This is the dehydrator I own and love, which is also great for homemade fruit roll ups, jerky, and more.
7. Not only will sugar dry them, but you will make flavored sugar. When you dry sprigs in sugar (crush them a little first to release oils and fragrance) and stir around every day, the flavor becomes infused into the sugar after a week or two. This sweet way of preservation is great for coffees, teas, desserts, cocktails or the rims, or even as party favors.
8. Salt-dry the herbs. Just like how sugar draws the moisture out of the herbs, so will salt. Instead of flavoring the salt though, the main idea behind this technique is that non-iodized table salt will basically “cure” it after 2-4 weeks. Then remove the sprigs, shake off excess salt, and store in glass containers for a long time. Before using again, rinse in cold water.
9. Freeze them whole. Soft-leaf herbs like basil, parsley, and tarragon freeze well this way. Just wash and dry freshly-picked herbs, and place them in labeled freezer bags or containers. Cool tip: basil and oregano crush up in your hand right upon removal from the freezer, while others may need thawed before use again so it’s all in the timing. Chopped or whole, herbs should last about 3 months this way. If you blanch them first (soak in hot water a few seconds, then straight into ice-cold water, dry) before placing in bags/containers, then you may get 6 months out of them.
10. Freeze herbs in ice cube trays of butter, oil, or bone broth. Chop up herbs or flavorful combinations of herbs into ice cube trays, then pour your choice above to fill and freeze. You can just use water, but using these other liquids makes for a great easy addition to recipes. Step-by-step instructions here.
11. Make a flavored butter. Herbal butters are a simple way to spice cooking and dining up a bit, plus they make great gifts!
12. Make an herbal infused vinegar. To make flavored vinegars you will need bottles with cork stoppers – like what I used to make this homemade vanilla extract- as well as various vinegars and herbs to fill them. Try lemon balm in white-wine vinegar or rosemary in apple-cider vinegar. Store in a dark, cool place for about a month and then flavor salads, marinades, veggies, and more with your homemade herbal vinegar. Or make and give as impressive gifts!
13. Make an herbal infused oil. Add about 2 tablespoons of crushed herbs to an olive oil or other cold-pressed oil. Be sure that fresh herbs are completely dry if using from fresh, store infused oil in the refrigerator, and use within a few weeks. I’ve also made chamomile-infused jojoba and almond oils as homemade body care recipes, which can then turn into homemade body wash.
14. Mix and freeze up some pesto. Wash 2 cups herbs then chop in a food processor with 1/3 cup olive oil, or enough to make a paste. Freeze in small containers with all air removed by shaking/tapping and then a layer of olive oil on top to further seal against air. Classic pesto is often made with basil, but you can make a variety of pesto pastes like this great guide shows, or this perfect round-up of 16 ideas.
15. Make your own herbed seasoned salt. You can whip up a batch of your own special blend once a year and freeze until needed.
16. Make homemade simple syrups of all kinds. Throw some leftover or excess herbs in sugar and water to infuse a simple syrup, especially if you’re a cocktail lover.
17. Add fresh or dried herbs to create bath salts or bath bombs, for yourself or others. Or just throw some extra herbs right into the tub with you.
18. Give herb plants away to friends. Replant portions into new containers, like in tip #1, to continue to grow in someone else’s home. You’re practically giving them the gift of life.
*Mold can develop if moisture was left when packed or sealed in containers or bags, so take care to dry and pack properly.
*Remember that one tablespoon of fresh herbs is equivalent to one teaspoon of dried herbs.