Freezing fresh herbs from your garden offers a way to extend summer's bounty. While drying herbs is also a common preservation method, herbs with a high water content can rot or become moldy before they dry out. So for these herbs—including basil, chives, mint, dill, and cilantro—freezing typically makes a better option. In the freezing process the herbs become limp, but the essential oils keep their flavor intact for months. And unlike dried herbs and their concentrated flavor, frozen herbs (once thawed) can be used in the same proportion as fresh ones.
When to Freeze Fresh Herbs
During the height of summer, most gardeners find themselves with more herbs than they can use. Yet to maintain the proliferation of the plant, herbs must be regularly harvested before they go to seed. It's at this time that preservation methods come in handy, so the fresh herbs don't go to waste.
For the best taste, harvest and freeze herbs in the middle of the summer when the plant reaches its prime. (That's typically in July for most growing regions.) And note that herbs harvested in the morning have the most intense flavor before the heat of the day slightly wilts them.
In late summer or early fall, pull annual herbs up by the root, and trim perennial herbs to a third of their size, freezing them for later use if necessary.
Equipment / Tools
- Cookie sheet
- Ice cube tray
- Wax paper or plastic wrap
- Zippered food storage bags
- Paper towels or a salad spinner
- Herb plant
Freezing Fresh Herbs as Individual Leaves
Freezing herbs as individual leaves requires a little more time up front to separate each leaf. However, when it comes time to cook with them, the herbs are easy to measure and can be used almost identically to freshly cut herbs. Additionally, herbs stored flat in zippered bags take up less space in your freezer.
Trim the Top Section of Leaves
When your herb plant is at the peak of its growing season (and just before flowering), trim the top section of leaves off of each stalk. Leave at least two-thirds of the plant intact.
Spread the Individual Leaves Onto a Cookie Sheet or Small Freezer-Safe Tray
Make sure the leaves are situated as flat as possible with space between each one. Overlapping leaves will form a hard-to-manage brick when frozen.
Cover the Tray of Leaves With Wax Paper (Preferred) or Plastic Wrap
The covering keeps the leaves clean and prevents them from falling off the tray.
Freeze the Herbs for at Least Two Hours or Overnight
Remove the Leaves From the Sheet, then Return to Freezer in Storage Bags
When the leaves are frozen solid, remove them from the tray, place them into zippered food storage bags, and return them to the freezer. Because they're already frozen, the leaves won't stick together in the bags. Label each bag, so you can easily identify the herbs.
Freezing Fresh Herbs as Ice Cubes
Freezing herbs in cubes takes up more space in the freezer than freezing individual leaves. But the result yields portioned servings ready to toss into a recipe, such as a sauce. However, if a recipe calls for less than what you froze in each cube, you will need to thaw and cut a cube.
Cut the Top Section of Leaves
Harvest herbs using the same method as you would for freezing individual leaves. Cut roughly a third of the herb plant at the height of its growing season, leaving the rest intact.
Run the Stalks of the Herbs Under Cool Water, and Shake Off Excess Moisture
Place them between two paper towels, and pat dry. Alternatively, place the herbs in a salad spinner, and spin until dry. Take care to remove almost all of the water before freezing. Then, pluck the leaves off of each stalk.
Fill Your Trays
You can freeze the leaves whole, but chopping and measuring them allows you to easily incorporate them into recipes. One option is to add 1 tablespoon of chopped herbs to each space in an ice cube tray. Just make sure you note whatever measurement you choose.
Once the herbs are measured and portioned out in the ice cube tray, fill each cube halfway up with water. Make sure all of the leaves are submerged in the water, and freeze the tray for at least one hour. Once the ice cubes are frozen, top off each tray with water. Place the tray back into the freezer to freeze solid.
Use in Recipes
When you are ready to use your herbs in a recipe, simply toss in the number of proportioned ice cubes your dish calls for. The excess water usually won't make a difference in most recipes.
Fresh Herb Freezing Tips
Regardless of whether you're freezing leaves individually or as ice cubes, make sure to harvest the healthiest leaves. Avoid using the older leaves at the bottom of the plant, along with brown or insect-chewed leaves. The marginal flavor of older or damaged leaves is not worth the effort of freezing them.
If you're freezing individual leaves and have minimal room in your freezer, process them in smaller batches. Or use paper plates stacked on one another for the freezing process instead of a large cookie sheet.
Herbs with woody stems, such as oregano, rosemary, and thyme, contain a low water content. Consequently, they are better off dried than frozen.
Hartung, Tammi, and Saxon Holt. Homegrown Herbs: a Complete Guide to Growing, Using, and Enjoying More than 100 Herbs. Storey Publishing, 2011.