You can dry or freeze herbs from your herb garden so that you will be able to enjoy that fresh-herb taste long after peak season. While drying herbs is an easy, efficient means to preserve fresh herbs, herbs with a high water content seem to rot or get moldy before they ever dry.
To preserve herbs with a lot of water in their leaves, like basil, chives, lemon balm, mint, dill, tarragon, and cilantro, fresh freezing is a better option. The herbs will become limp in the process, but their essential oils will be preserved and their flavor will be intact. Frozen herbs will keep their fresh flavor for several months.
Unlike dried herbs, where the herb's flavor gets more concentrated upon drying, frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh herbs.
Two Ways to Freeze Herbs
There are two ways to freeze herbs. You can freeze the individual leaves or you can make herb ice cubes. One method takes up more room in your freezer, and the other takes a little more time. Both work well.
For both methods, you will want to harvest the freshest, healthiest leaves. The flavor of herbs is most intense in the morning when the plants are still well hydrated. Avoid using dried or chewed leaves; older leaves at the very bottom of the plant are usually past their prime. The decline in the flavor of older or declining leaves is not worth the effort of freezing them.
Shake off any clinging soil and wash, if necessary, then pat dry with paper towels. If you are freezing the individual leaves, having them absolutely dry is not essential, but too much excess water will form ice crystals. And, if you plan to use the ice cube method, the only reason for patting them dry is to keep them from making a mess on the counter.
Freezing Individual Leaves
This is the more time-consuming method since you have to separate out each individual leaf, although, when all is said and done, this method will take up less space in your freezer.
- You will need to spread the individual leaves on a small tray or cookie sheet. You want to freeze the leaves flat and individually, this will prevent them from freezing together into a brick. If you cannot find room in your freezer for a large cookie tray, do them in smaller batches or use plates and stack them one on top of another. This is just a temporary step. The herbs will not take up this much room in your freezer while being stored for the long run.
- Cover and place the tray of leaves in the freezer. You can use plastic wrap, waxed paper, or whatever you have handy. The cover is just to keep the leaves clean and to prevent them from falling off the tray if it gets jiggled.
- When the leaves are frozen solid, remove them from the tray, place them in airtight containers and return to the freezer. Once frozen individually, the leaves will not meld together, so you no longer need to keep them spread out.
- Be sure to label each container. Herbs can look a lot alike in the freezer.
Freezing Leaves as Ice Cubes
This method will take up more space in your freezer, but the ice cubes look great when they are done. It is also easy to grab a cube and go, one cube is often a good portion. Although, if your recipe calls for less, you would have to thaw and portion out the cube.
Also, this method will allow you to chop your herbs, while the other does not work as well with chopped herbs that can become more of a mushy mess and freeze that way.
- You can freeze the leaves whole or chop them beforehand. Once they are frozen and thawed, they are too mushy to chop easily. Stuff two to three individual leaves or a spoonful of chopped herbs in ice cube trays. It is OK to be a little rough with them. That just releases their oils, which will get frozen along with the ice cubes.
- Fill the tray halfway with water. Make sure the leaves are down into the water, as best you can. They may tend to float, but that is not a problem. Place the half-filled tray in the freezer.
- Once the ice cubes are frozen, top off each ice cube tray with water. Place the tray back into the freezer to freeze solid. The leaves will no longer be able to float and will be completely encapsulated in water.
- Once the ice cubes are fully frozen, you can remove them from the tray and store in zip closure bags. Label the bags. They look even more alike as ice cubes than they did as frozen leaves.
- When you are ready to use your herbs, simply toss the whole ice cube into your favorite stew or dish.
To save herbs with woody stems (and less water content) like oregano, rosemary, and thyme, learn how to dry and store those garden herbs.