Freezing and Drying Herbs for the Winter

With temperatures dipping into the mid-4os for a few days last week, I figured it was time to harvest herbs and freeze and dry them for the winter. I learned that some herbs do nicely in the freezer, especially those with high water content that tend to get a bit moldy if left to dry naturally. So I decided to try that method this year.

So I froze my basil leaves by first spreading them on a flat cooking sheet and putting them into the freezer.  I did the same with my marjoram leaves.  When the leaves were frozen, I carefully slid the leaves into a plastic freezer bag and put the bag into the freezer. I also put a batch of basil leaves in the food processor, mixed  the basil leaves with olive oil and scooped the mixture into ice cube trays. The next day I popped each cube out of the tray and put them into a plastic freezer bag and put them back in the freezer. Then I dried my rosemary and thyme sprigs and put them in glass canning jars for storage in the cabinet. I plan to do another herb harvest before the pots get put into the cold frame for the winter. Well, I hope to do so.  With the fluctuating temperatures and a busy schedule coming up, I hope I don’t miss the window before a big outdoor freeze cuts short my harvesting plan for an indoor freeze.

Here is a nice summary on freezing and drying herbs:

Tips for Drying and Freezing Herbs

Tom Wajda
Adams County Master Gardener

The best time to dry herbs is just before they bloom when they are at the peak of their flavor. It is important to do your cutting in late morning after the dew is off, but before the hot sun draws out the delicate flavors and aromas.

The simplest drying method is to hang your herbs in a dry, well-ventilated area out of direct sunlight. Barns, garages, attics, and sheds are good places; basements are usually too damp for drying. Create a drying zone by stringing up some wire or by putting nails in ceiling joists or rafters. If ventilation is a problem, use a small fan to move the air. Avoid direct sunlight as it causes plants to change color and dry too quickly. If necessary, cover windows with curtains.

Gather your herbs in small bunches (the size will vary depending on the leafiness of the product) and wrap the stems with a small rubber band. A half-opened paper clip is the ideal hook for hanging the bunch.

Drying time will depend on humidity, temperature, and the item you are drying. Most herbs will be ready in 10-14 days; they are done if a leaf rubbed between your fingers crumbles easily. Store dried herbs in sealed jars or plastic bags in cool, dark place. If moisture appears in the jar or bag, it is a sign that the herb is not completely dry. Avoid crushing the leaves until you are ready to use them; crushed herbs lose their flavor more quickly.

Drying herbs in a microwave is quick, simple, and gives excellent results. Place two layers of paper towel in the bottom of the microwave, add a layer of herbs, and cover with two more layers of paper towel. Run the microwave on high for two minutes, then check your herbs for dryness. If they are not done, move the herbs around, run the microwave for 30-60 seconds and check again. Repeat the process until the herbs are dry. WARNING: This process requires careful attention. The paper towels in the microwave can catch fire if hot spots occur. This is a good method for preserving parsley.

Dehydrators are good for drying herbs. Drying time will vary depending on humidity so don’t expect quick results in wet weather or if you have your dehydrator in a damp basement. Follow instructions for your dehydrator regarding temperature settings.

Some herbs freeze well, including tarragon, chives, dill, fennel, and lovage. Simply strip off stems and freeze leaves inzip-lock freezer bags. Basil can be pureed in a food processor or blender with a small amount of olive oil, then frozen in ice cube trays; freeze the basil cubes in zip-lock freezer bags.


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