Preserving Herbs on the Homestead: An Important Skill

For those who can not harvest herbs through the winter, or can not bring the pots into the house, preserving herbs can be done in other ways. Herbs can be frozen or dried in various ways.

When preserving herbs by drying or freezing them they tend to lose the smell that easily identifies them. Therefore, make sure to label each container with the name of the herb. For more information on getting started with herbs, read An Introduction to Herbs on the Homestead.

Table of herbs being preseved

Preserving Herbs on the Homestead

Preserving herbs is easy if you know how!

Preserving Herbs By Freezing

Freezing works for most herbs easily. First of all, make sure you wash the herbs and shake off any excess water. Then, either chop or dice the herbs into the form in which they will be used in the future.

I simply place them in baggies if I am freezing larger quantities. Just make sure to remove as much air as possible. A vacuum sealer is a great option here.

Another way to freeze them is to mix them with olive oil and freeze them in ice cube trays. Therefore, when you need them you can just pop one out of the tray and they are ready to go. The olive oil will melt and coat the pan when using them to fry with.

Herbs frozen in olive oil in an ice cube tray

Herbs that freeze well:

  • anise
  • basil
  • chives
  • coriander
  • dill
  • lovage
  • marigold
  • mint
  • oregano
  • parsley
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • savory
  • sorrel
  • sweet marjoram
  • tarragon
  • thyme

Drying Herbs

There are many ways to dry herbs. Three popular ways are drying outside, hanging bunches, and in an oven or a dehydrator. Each option is fairly simple. Therefore, you need to decide which option is best for you.

Herbs hanging to dry

Drying Outside

When preserving herbs by allowing them to dry naturally in the fresh air, you must be careful that the sun is not directly on them. Too much heat and sunlight may burn the leaves. Hence, this will make the herb no good at all.

First of all, place individual leaves or stems on a cloth.  Next, place the cloth in an airy place in the shade. Finally, remove the leaves or stems when they are completely dry and brittle, timing depends on humidity, the thickness of the stems or leaves, and airflow.

Make sure that while they are drying they do not get covered by dew or become rained on.  Storage will be discussed later in this article.

Hanging Bunches

Herbs on a rack

When using this method in preserving your herbs, you will cut the top 6 inches of the plant, or you can use whole plants. Then, you hang them in bunches that you tie with string. Herbs hung in this manner should always be hung with the root end to the top and in a shady and airy place.

When the herbs are completely dry, simply crumble the herbs up and store. If there are unneeded stems, simply strip the leaves off and discard the stems.

Herbs that hang well:

  • anise
  • basil
  • marigold
  • marjoram
  • mint
  • oregano
  • parsley
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • savory
  • tarragon
  • thyme

Using an Oven or Dehydrator

If using an oven to dry your herbs, simply place the herbs in a shallow pan at 110° and leave the door ajar. It usually takes about 8 hours in this manner. Most noteworthy here, do not mix herbs when doing this method.

I do not use the oven for this method because I have a gas stove and 8 hours is a long time to allow the gas to run. It does work well in an electric oven, however.

When using a dehydrator, you need to read the instructions for your particular model in order to correctly dry your herbs.

dehydrated herbs

Tips for Preserving Herbs

Regardless of which method you choose, there are circumstances where you must do it a little differently. For example, if you have much larger leaves like comfrey and borage, it may be better to rip the leaves up into smaller pieces. Or simply hang the leaves upside down whole. Keep in mind that when you tear up those leaves they could lose some of their flavors.

Most of all, make sure that you turn the leaves and stems over once or twice a day for longer drying herbs. And please note, thick leaves tend to be better frozen instead of dried. For some other great ways to preserve and dry herbs check out Kathi’s post at Oak Hill Homestead.

dried herbs

Storing Herbs

You can store seeds, leaves, and roots in clean, dry baby food jars.  For larger amounts, you can make use of pint mason jars. The most important factor is a tight-fitting lid.

The less exposure to air your herbs receive, the longer they will maintain their flavor. The second factor is heat. Do not store herbs near the stove, as a result, the heat will dry them further and can take away any flavor. The heat can cause evaporation of the flavor oils.

The final factor to take into consideration is light. Keeping dried herbs in a darker place will protect the color of the herbs as light causes fading.

Jars of herbs

Cooking with Dried Herbs

While dried herbs seem to be less in amount after drying, their flavor is at least 3 times stronger as when it was fresh. As a result,  when using dried herbs you can figure that 1 Tablespoon of the fresh herb is equal to 1 teaspoon of dried herb. Keep this in mind so you do not overpower your dish with dried herbs.

For a great E-book packed with information on herb gardening from growing to harvesting and even using your herbs, check out my newest e-book, Herbs 101: Herb Gardening and Preserving for the Beginner.

Do you know how to preserve those herbs you grow on your homestead? Here are some great tips!

Do you preserve your own herbs at home? Which methods do you use? Please share them below!

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