You've pruned, pinched and picked basketfuls of aromatic herbs. Now you have an overabundance and need to preserve some of those fresh herbs from the garden so they'll last through the winter. How to store fresh herbs depends on the type of herb — whether they're "tender" or soft herbs with green stems and leaves, such as basil, parsley, mint, dill, tarragon and cilantro, or hardier herbs with woody stems, like rosemary, thyme and sage.
How to Store Fresh Herbs
To keep tender herbs fresh for several days, place them in a glass or jar of water as you would a bouquet of flowers. Then loosely cover parsley, cilantro, tarragon, mint or dill with a resealable plastic bag and refrigerate or store it on the kitchen counter. Note that fresh-cut basil will rapidly wilt if refrigerated so it's best to leave it uncovered at room temperature in an area with some light where it will last for about a week.
Hardy herbs (and chives) can also be chilled in the refrigerator after wrapping them in a damp paper towel, then in plastic wrap, as if you were making a burrito.
If you aren't quite ready to use the herbs, try drying or freezing them to make them last through the winter.
Stored in a cool, dry and preferably dark place, most dried herbs will keep up to a year. Make sure they're completely dry, then store them in a rigid, tightly sealed opaque container.
To prevent mold growth, dry tender leaf herbs such as basil, tarragon, lemon balm and mint quickly in an oven or microwave. To microwave, sandwich a single layer of herbs between two paper towels. Place a ½ cup of water next to them and dry or dehydrate them on a low setting.
Air drying is best for hardy herbs like rosemary. Tie two to three sprigs at the base of the stems with twine and hang them or lay them on netting screens away from direct sunlight at room temperature. When dry, rub the leaves from the stems and store them in airtight containers out of direct sun.
Some herbs, including parsley, dill, basil, chives, lemon balm, mint and tarragon, maintain their flavor best when frozen rather than dried. You can freeze herbs flat on a cookie sheet or in ice cubes. Frozen herbs are best used unthawed in cooked dishes or beverages and will keep up to one year in the freezer.
How to Preserve Herbs From the Garden in Oil, Vinegar and More
To prolong the life of your herbs, add them to oil, vinegar, salt, syrup, butter, cheese and almost anything in between. Or set some aside to mix up batches of your favorite garden-to-glass cocktails to enjoy all year long.
Because commercially made infused oils undergo an acidifying process to rid them of toxins, you can store them at room temperature for up to a year. Homemade herb-infused oils, however, can harbor Clostridium botulinum so you'll need to refrigerate and use them within two to four days. Sterilize clean bottles and jars for 10 minutes in boiling water, then wash and dry the herbs before adding them to the oil.
Flavored vinegars are delicious in salad dressings or drizzled on roasted or steamed veggies. If stored properly, they'll last six to eight months in the fridge or two to three months in a cool room.
Select a type of vinegar that blends well with your choice of herbs. Distilled white vinegar has a sharp, acidic taste that blends well with delicately flavored herbs like dill, mint or parsley. With their mild, floral flavors, white wine and champagne vinegars work nicely with tender herbs, while red wine vinegar is best paired with stronger flavored varieties like rosemary.
Add three to four springs of fresh herbs per pint of vinegar, then steep for two to four weeks, shaking every couple of days.
Used throughout history to preserve foods, salt is another great way to easily preserve either a single herb or a combination of herbs for up to a year. Using a mortar and pestle, combine 1 teaspoon of dried herbs and 1/4 cup coarse noniodized salt. Place the salt in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and bake in a 300 F oven for 10 minutes. Then cool, sift and store it in an airtight container.
For a myriad of cocktails or to drizzle on just about anything that pairs well with a sweet flavored syrup, herb-infused simple syrups are easy to make, and they'll last three months or longer. Just combine one part water with one part granulated sugar, add herbs and bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves, steep for about ½ hour, then chill. Once chilled, strain the syrup to remove the herbs, then pour into a sterilized glass jar.
Herb-infused wine can last up to two weeks, ready to enjoy chilled as an aperitif. Combine cleaned herbs and wine in a glass bottle with a tightly closed cap. Let it sit in a cool, dark spot for five to 14 days, then strain out the herbs before serving.
Herb Butters and Cheeses
Chopped fresh tender chives, tarragon, cilantro or hardy rosemary added to softened butter will last in the fridge for two months or up to six months if frozen. Mix fresh herbs into soft cheeses to make perfect companions for your garden-to-glass herb-infused cocktails.