Herb Garden
Published December 2, 2022 by Laura Christine

How to Save and Store Fresh Herbs from Your Garden for Winter

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how to preserve herbs from the garden

Herbs Can Be Saved for Year-Round Enjoyment

One of the many rewards of growing herbs is the fact that I can save and store them for the winter months. There are many approaches and methods to everything in the gardening world, and saving and storing herbs is no exception! Let's take a look at how we can accomplish saving different herbs from the garden. 

how to preserve herbs like mint

Tips to Wash and Store Fresh Herbs from the Garden

Keep these basics in mind when you're harvesting and preparing your garden-fresh herbs to ensure greater success.

Harvesting Herbs

  • Cut herbs first thing in the morning when their essential oils are at their best
  • Harvest the lower, outer leaves first
  • Cut the herbs before they flower (when a plant flowers, its focus is on flowering, not the leaves)

Preparing Herbs

  • Wash your herbs thoroughly to remove dirt, debris, and organisms that would feed on decay 
  • Dry your herbs completely using a salad spinner or paper towels 
  • Double check and inspect; look for critters, debris, dead leaves, etc.

Note: There are two opinions on when to wash your herbs. Some gardeners wash them immediately before storage, while others wait until they are going to use them. I am one to wash my herbs as soon as they are brought into the house. In my experience, washing herbs in cold water and then spinning out the moisture in a salad spinner not only removes any dirt and debris, but it can also prevent any type of organism that would feed on plant decay. 

how to keep herbs fresh in fridge

Storage Life of Fresh Herbs 

It is always my goal to keep our fresh harvested herbs on hand as long as possible. Knowing how long they can last in a fresh state determines my approach on how to store them.

There are two groups of herbs. There is the "tender leafy" group of herbs and the "hard stem" group of herbs.

The "tender leafy" herbs have a soft stem and leaves. Popular herbs with these characteristics include basil, cilantro, and parsley. These herbs can typically keep for 2 to 3 weeks.

The "hard stem" herbs are herbs that have a hard or woody type of stem. Popular herbs with this characteristic include oregano, rosemary, and thyme. These herbs can typically keep 1 to 2 weeks.

When fresh herbs start to turn dark or brittle or when there are signs of mold on the stems, it's time to toss them.

how long can herbs last chart

How to Store Fresh Herbs 

I use several different storage methods. Some of the most popular ways to store fresh herbs are on the countertop, in the refrigerator, or in the freezer. 

How to Store Herbs on the Countertop

Fresh herbs can be kept on the counter much like fresh flowers. This is my favorite method for storing fresh basil leaves.

Trim the stems and remove the bottom leaves before putting them in a container filled with an inch or two of water. They will last longer if you try to keep the herbs out of direct sunlight (the exception is basil) as well as change the water every couple of days. If moisture is needed, cover the herbs with a plastic bag.

Basil and mint are perfect candidates to keep on the countertop because they quickly soften and decay in the chill of the refrigerator. 

storing fresh basil leaves

How to Store Herbs in the Fridge

You can store your herbs several different ways in the refrigerator. After washing and trimming them, one way is to store them in a container filled with water and covered with a plastic bag. I have found this method works very well with fresh cilantro and parsley. 

Dill, mint, and tarragon do well in a covered container like a mason jar with a little bit of water in the bottom. 

Another method is to loosely spread out a few sprigs of herbs between paper towel sheets and seal in a plastic bag. There is some debate on whether the paper towels should be damp or not. My approach is that if I've just washed an herb, I will put it in between dry paper towels so that they will soak up any excess moisture. If I decide not to wash the herbs right away, I will dampen the towels around the stems to purposely keep the herbs moist. Sage, savory, and chives store very well in dampened paper towels. 

Regardless of how the herbs are stored in your refrigerator, check every other day for yellow or darkening leaves and change the water in your containers. Parsley, rosemary, and thyme have lasted for several weeks due to my diligent checking and changing! 

keep herbs fresh in fridge

How to Store Herbs in the Freezer

Freezing your fresh herbs is a super simple way to not only store and preserve your herbs but also to retain herb freshness and flavor. There are many different freezing methods, including freezing in oil, water, or butter, or freezing the herb by itself. 

How to Freeze Herbs in Olive Oil

Basil, rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano are some of my favorite herbs that are great for freezing in oil. Follow these steps to freeze herbs in olive oil:

  • Carefully remove the herbs from their stalks and roughly chop them into smaller pieces.
  • Fill your ice cube trays halfway up with herbs and then top them off with organic extra virgin olive oil.
  • Cover the trays with plastic wrap and let them freeze for at least 8 hours.
  • When they are frozen, remove them and put them into a sealed container till it's time to use them.

Adding cubes of herbs and oil to soups, stews, sauces, and toppings is one of my favorite things to do! 

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How to Freeze Herbs in Water

A second method is to freeze your herbs in water. Parsley, cilantro, and chives do well with this type of freezing. Follow these basic steps:

  • Prepare your herbs based on how you are going to use them (e.g., chives would be chopped into small pieces).
  • Fill an ice cube tray with a combination of 1/4 herbs and 3/4 fresh water.
  • Put the trays in the freezer.
  • When you are ready to use your herb cubes, just let the water melt while they sit in a strainer or add them directly to your recipe if the extra water is not an issue.
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How to Freeze Herbs in Butter

One of my favorite ways to use and store herbs is in the form of a compound butter, also known as herb butter. Here's how:

  • Soften a stick of butter.
  • Add herbs to softened butter and mix it up.
  • Put mixture on parchment paper, roll it up tightly, and place it in the freezer. 

I'm a bread and butter girl, for sure, but when you add fresh herbs from your garden, the flavor is out of this world! I like to stick to simple combinations like sage, thyme, and rosemary, which goes great with poultry; a simple garlic and chives combo for steak; or lemon and dill for fish. There isn't a set combination, so the sky is truly the limit on what you can add to your butter! 

How to Freeze Herbs by Themselves

Last but not least, the simplest way to freeze herbs is without a liquid. Here's how:

  • Lay your herb on top of parchment paper on a cookie sheet.
  • Place the pan in the freezer and let the herb freeze for at least 8 hours.
  • After it has frozen, put the herb in a Ziploc bag or container and keep it in the freezer until you need it—it's that simple!


freeze herbs in olive oil

How to Preserve Herbs 

Preserving herbs is a necessity if you don't have access to growing them throughout the year. I always look for low-labor and simple methods for herb preservation. Some of my favorites are drying, dehydrating, and infusing herbs into vinegars. 

How to Dry Herbs 

I love drying herbs because it only takes a few minutes to prepare the herbs for drying. There are two methods for drying herbs naturally. For both, you'll bunch your herbs together after you have washed and dried them.

For one method, you'll tie them in a bunch with twine and hang them by the stems upside down in a cool, dark environment, such as a basement. 

The second method involves taking a bunch of herbs and putting them in a paper bag, wrapping the bag around the stems, clipping the bag closed, and putting the bag in a cool, dark place. 

Check the herbs after two weeks. If they crumble when you touch them, then they are officially dry. Store them in a container with a lid. Herbs that are good for this method include bay leaves, dill, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, summer savory, and thyme. 

how to dry fresh herbs

How to Dehydrate Herbs 

Dehydration is the process where a machine uses heat to remove moisture, resulting in dried herbs. Since there are so many different types of dehydrators, I will only focus on what to keep in mind if you choose to use a dehydrator to dry your herbs. Like everything, you will learn or have learned what settings on your machine work best for the specific herbs you are preserving.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Allow enough space between leaves or stems. 
  • Rotate trays occasionally—sometimes different trays dry faster than others
  • Average dehydration time is between 6-8 hours 
  • When herbs are dried, store them in sealed jars 

The herbs that dehydrate well include dill, sage, mint, oregano, basil, rosemary, lavender, tarragon, lemon balm, thyme, and sage. 

how to dry herbs in a dehydrator

How to Infuse Vinegar with Fresh Herbs

Infusing vinegar is a delicious way to use and preserve your fresh herbs. Infused vinegars go great over salads or as a dip for warm bread. 

The process of infusing vinegar with herbs is very simple. There are two approaches. One is to just pack a jar half full with herbs and pour the vinegar over the herbs to fill the jar. The other approach is to use the "general rule of thumb", which translates into a half cup of herbs to two cups of vinegar. 

Initially, I pour everything into a mason jar (with a non-metal lid) and let the infusion happen over several weeks. The longer you let the infusion sit (up to six weeks), the more intense the herb flavor will be. How you want the infusion to taste is all up to you. I taste-test my vinegar until I decide it's ready! 

Once you have your flavor, strain out the herbs and pour the mixture into your bottle. Using a bottle with a cork is always the best choice. If you want to store the vinegar for more than six months, you can coat the cork with beeswax, which will seal your bottle when it is corked. 

Types of Vinegars to Use for Herb Infusions

Here are some descriptions of the vinegars you can use in your infusions:

  • Apple cider vinegar is a vinegar that is made from crushed and fermented apples. It is a popular vinegar that is loaded with tons of B vitamins and vitamin C. 
  • Balsamic vinegar is a sweet, dark-colored vinegar that is one of the most popular vinegars around. It is used often for herb infusions. 
  • Rice vinegar is a vinegar made from fermented rice. You find this type of vinegar used in Asian cooking. 
  • White wine vinegar is a vinegar that is made from fermented white wine. There is often confusion between this and regular white vinegar. This vinegar is a lot sweeter than regular white vinegar! 
how to infuse herbs in vinegar

Herb Vinegar Recipes 

Parsley, Sage, & Rosemary Infused Vinegar 

This is a great vinegar to have on hand! It goes great with poultry.

In a jar, pack in a handful of parsley, rosemary, and sage. Cover the herbs with a vinegar mixture that is 1/2 rice vinegar and 1/2 white wine vinegar. 

Garlic and Tarragon Infused Vinegar 

Use fresh garlic and tarragon sprigs with white wine vinegar. This is the type of vinegar that you'd find at a gourmet type of store. It has a wonderful flavor! 

Enjoy!

how to dry herbs without a dehydrator

Meet the Author, Dr. Laura Christine

Dr. Laura Christine — Kitchen Garden Expert

Dr. Laura is a Gardenary-certified garden coach with a background in naturopathy and over 40 years of gardening experience.

Her love of gardening started as a child, when she and her mother would garden together and she'd experience the rush of excitement that comes with picking that first cucumber for making pickles. She's passionate about using her garden experience now to teach others about growing their own food and how gardening can impact their personal health.

Her business, Kitchen Garden Expert, helps gardeners in the Kansas City area experience the joy of growing their favorite herbs, fruits, and vegetables in an organic and sustainable kitchen garden.

Follow Kitchen Garden Expert on Instagram and Facebook to see what Laura's growing now!

FOLLOW DR. LAURA AND LEARN MORE ABOUT KITCHEN GARDEN EXPERT

Located in the Kansas City area, Kitchen Garden Expert is a pioneer in offering gardening services that focus on design, coaching, and maintenance. They're inspiring the garden life one organic herb plant at a time!

Read More from Our Knowledgeable Garden Coaches

How to Save and Store Fresh Herbs from Your Garden for Winter