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Top Tips For Preserving Herbs

Herbs are pivotal in many aspects of our lives, from culinary artistry to health and wellness. Each boasting its unique flavor profile and health benefits, the myriad of herbs available can elevate the simplest meals and soothe the most common ailments. However, herbs can be seasonal, and their freshness is short-lived, making preservation techniques crucial to maintain their potency year-round. This article will explore different methods of preserving herbs, tips on when and how to harvest them, and the optimal ways to store them.

Importance Of Herbs In Daily Life

Herbs are nature’s flavor enhancers, integral in various cuisines worldwide, imbuing dishes with distinct flavors. Beyond culinary use, herbs are esteemed for their medicinal properties, with scientific evidence supporting their efficacy in treating and preventing a multitude of health conditions. However, herbs’ benefits depend significantly on their freshness and quality, emphasizing the value of their proper preservation.

The assortment of herbs is vast, each carrying a unique blend of taste and health benefits. Some herbs, like basil, add a sweet and savory flavor to dishes while promoting digestive health. Others, like rosemary, offer a pine-like flavor and are known for their potential to enhance memory and concentration. This diverse portfolio makes herbs valuable commodities in every kitchen and medicine cabinet, prompting the need for effective preservation methods.

Knowing When And How To Harvest Herbs

Harvesting herbs at the right time is crucial for optimal preservation. Typically, herbs should be harvested just before they flower, a stage known as the ‘bud phase,’ when their oil content, responsible for their aroma and flavor, is at its peak. While this period varies depending on the herb species, it’s usually in the early morning after the dew has dried and before the sun gets too hot.

The manner of harvesting is equally important to ensure the longevity of herbs. Using a sharp knife or scissors, cut above a leaf pair on the stem, promoting more growth and preventing damage to the plant. For herbs growing from a bulb, like garlic or onions, wait until the leaves start yellowing before harvesting. Remember to clean the herbs gently to remove any dirt or bugs, and pat them dry before starting the preservation process.

Air Drying: The Classic Method

Air drying is one of the oldest and simplest methods of preserving herbs, relying on natural evaporation. It works best with hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage, which have lower moisture content. To air-dry herbs, gather small bundles, tie them at the base, and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight.

While air drying is cost-effective and straightforward, it may not suit all herbs. Tender herbs with high moisture content, such as basil, parsley, or mint, can mold or lose their vibrant color when air-dried. The process can also take a long time—up to two weeks—depending on the humidity level. Despite these limitations, air drying can be an excellent choice for preserving herbs without requiring specialized equipment.

Oven Drying: A Faster Alternative

Oven drying is quicker than air drying and can be especially useful for those living in humid climates where air drying may prove challenging. It is particularly effective for herbs with higher moisture content, like basil or parsley. To dry the herbs in a single layer on a baking sheet, set the oven to the lowest temperature, and leave the oven door slightly ajar for air circulation.

While oven drying significantly reduces the drying time, it requires a watchful eye. Herbs can quickly lose color and flavor if the oven temperature is too high or left in too long. Remember to check on them every 30 minutes to prevent overheating. Despite requiring more attention, oven drying can be a practical and efficient method for preserving herbs correctly.

Freezing: For Longer Preservation

Freezing herbs is another effective preservation method, particularly for soft, moist herbs such as basil, chives, and parsley. Freezing can retain the fresh flavor of these herbs better than drying. To freeze herbs, wash and pat them dry, chop them if desired, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet, and freeze. Once frozen, transfer them into freezer bags or containers.

However, it’s essential to note that while freezing preserves the flavor, it can alter the texture of herbs, making them softer and sometimes mushy. This change in texture doesn’t affect their use in cooked dishes but may not be ideal for garnishing. Regardless, freezing can be an excellent method for the long-term preservation of herbs, particularly those with high water content.

Using a Dehydrator: Modern Method

A food dehydrator offers a more modern approach to herb preservation. It applies heat to the herbs at a controlled temperature while circulating air to remove moisture. Dehydrators are ideal for any herb type and can retain herbs’ color and flavor better than other drying methods. To use, spread the herbs on the dehydrator trays, ensuring they don’t overlap, set the temperature (usually between 95 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit), and let the machine do its job.

The primary disadvantage of using a dehydrator is the initial cost of the machine, which can be significant. However, for avid gardeners or those who frequently use herbs, the investment can pay off over time. Dehydrators can take up quite a bit of space, and the drying process can still take several hours to complete. Despite these drawbacks, using a dehydrator can be an excellent way to preserve herbs while maintaining their quality.

Storing Preserved Herbs: The Final Step

Once your herbs are dried or frozen, proper storage is essential to maintain their quality. Dried herbs should be stored in airtight containers and kept in a cool, dry, dark place to preserve flavor and color. Label each container with the herb’s name and the date of preservation to keep track of its freshness.

Frozen herbs, on the other hand, should remain in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. Like dried herbs, they should be stored in airtight containers or freezer bags. Don’t forget to label them for easy identification. Properly stored herbs can maintain their potency for months, providing a fresh supply of flavors even when these herbs are out of season.

The Bottom Line

Preserving herbs extends their shelf life, allowing you to enjoy their unique flavors and health benefits all year round. The method you choose—whether air drying, oven drying, freezing, or using a dehydrator—will depend on your preference, the types of herbs you have, and the resources at your disposal. Regardless of the method, knowing how to preserve herbs is valuable for any culinary enthusiast or health-conscious individual. Experiment with these methods and find out what works best for you, and remember, the key to preserving herbs successfully lies in the initial harvest and final storage steps.


  1. “Preserving Herbs.”
  2. “How to Harvest and Preserve Your Garden Herbs.” The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
  3. “Preserving Herbs.” Penn State Extension.
  4. “Drying Herbs.” National Center for Home Food Preservation.