Freezing fresh herbs from your garden offers a way to extend summer's bounty all season long. And while drying herbs makes a somewhat easier preservation method, herbs with a high water content can rot or become moldy before they dry out. So, for herbs like basil, chives, mint, dill, and cilantro, freezing makes a better option. In the freezing process, the herbs become limp, but the essential oils keep their flavor intact for several months. An unlike dried herbs, where the flavor becomes more concentrated upon drying, frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh ones. Once thawed, use frozen herbs to liven up a pasta sauce, a chimichurri, or for a seasoning on roasted chicken, pork, or beef.
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, sometimes requiring the cutting of bushels full. It's at this time that preservation methods come in handy. For best taste, harvest and freeze herbs in the middle of the summer when the plant reaches its prime (in July for most growing regions). And note, herbs harvested in the morning have the most intense flavor. In late summer or early fall, pull annual herbs up by the root and trim perennial herbs to one-third of their size, freezing them for winter use.
Working time: 1 to 2 hours
Total time: 5 hours or more
What You'll Need
- Cookie sheet
- Ice cube trays
- Waxed paper or plastic wrap
- Zippered food storage bags
- Paper towels or a lettuce spinner
Freezing Fresh Herbs as Individual Leaves
Freezing herbs as individual leaves requires a little more time up front to separate out each leaf. However, when it comes time to cook with them, the herbs are easy to measure and can be used almost identically to herbs cut fresh. Additionally, herbs stored in zippered bags take up less space in your freezer.
Harvest Mid-Summer Herbs
When herbs like basil, mint, sage, and cilantro are at their peak (and just before flowering), trim the top section of leaves off of each stalk, leaving at least two-thirds of the plant intact.
Rinse and Separate the Leaves
Run the stalks of herbs under cool water and shake off excess moisture. Place them between two paper towels and pat dry. Alternatively, place the herbs in a lettuce spinner and spin until dry. Take care to remove almost all of the water before freezing, and then pluck the leaves off of each stalk.
Arrange the Leaves on a Sheet
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 Herbs and Freeze
Cover and place the tray of leaves with waxed 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 Herbs from the Freezer and Bag
When the leaves are frozen solid, remove them from the tray, place them into zippered bags, and return them to the freezer. When frozen individually, the leaves will not meld together in the bag. Label each container for future use.
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 preportioned servings ready to toss into a sauce. However, if your recipe calls for less than your portion size, you will need to thaw and portion out a cube.
Harvest the Herbs
Harvest herbs using the same method as you would for freezing individual leaves by cutting one-third and leaving two-thirds of the plant intact.
Rinse, Chop, and Portion the Herbs
Of course, you can freeze the leaves whole, but chopping and measuring them beforehand allows you to easily incorporate them into a recipe. For best results, rinse your herbs, pat them dry with paper towels, and chop them. Then, add one tablespoon to each space in an ice cube tray.
Fill the Ice Cube Tray with Water and Freeze
Once the herbs are measured and portioned out, fill the tray half-way full of water. Make sure all the leaves are submerged in the water and freeze 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.
Remove Cubes from the Freezer and Use
When you are ready to use your herbs in a recipe, simply toss in the number of preportioned ice cubes your dish calls for.
Fresh Herb Freezing Tips
For both freezing methods, make sure to harvest the healthiest leaves. Avoid using the older leaves at the bottom of the plant, brown leaves, 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 instead. The herbs will not take up as much room in your freezer this way.
Herbs with woody stems like oregano, rosemary, and thyme contain less water content are better off dried than frozen.