Preserving Your Summer Herbs

Now that the cool morning air has me pulling the covers a little closer, I can no longer deny it— summer is waning.  And while the sun still feels hot at noon, plants now get fewer hours of sunshine. This month, leaves begin to turn and our gardens start their seasonal decline. The garden plants that I miss most when the growing season ends are herbs. I love stuffing handfuls of fresh parsley, basil and mint into my blender for morning smoothies. I depend on a library of fresh thyme, oregano, dill, rosemary, sage and chives to season my meals. I also adore their beauty benefits.

Many of us don’t consider the incredibly beautifying properties of fresh herbs. Basil protects cells from oxidative (pro-aging) damage, parsley is rich in the beauty mineral iron, while thyme is a powerful antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory (bye-bye blemishes), and sage helps regulate bile flow for healthy digestion. Mint and cilantro are powerful detoxifiers.

Every fall, I hatch plans to extend the life of my herb garden so that I can continue the flavorful, beauty-boosting harvest into the winter. After years of trial and error, here are my favorite ways to preserve your herbs:

Dry them.  This seems to work best with more potent herbs like oregano and thyme, two varieties that retain their flavor when dried. I like to cut their stems near the soil, wash them and leave them to dry on the counter for several days. When they’re fully dried, slide your fingers over the stems to remove the leaves and transfer them into a jar.

Freeze flat. Freezing the leaves of some herbs (basil, for example), retains the delicate flavor better than drying. Freeze clean, dry leaves flat on a baking sheet first, then transfer to a freezer bag or container. When you need basil for a winter recipe, pull it out, chop it and toss it into your meal.

Freeze cubes. Fill empty ice cube trays with fresh herbs (chopped or whole), cover with a little water and freeze them into cubes. When a soup, stew or baked dish calls for herbs, pop out the ones you need and add them to your creation. You can freeze measured amounts (eg: 1 tbsp chopped parsley), or base quantities on taste.

 Make pesto. Pesto is a delicious way to preserve the flavor of your basil, though basil isn’t the only herb that works well in this style. Try making pesto with fresh parsley, thyme or cilantro as well. Add olive oil and raw nuts (walnuts, cashews or pine nuts work well), season, and freeze to preserve the flavor.

Bring them indoors. This is the hardest, and least foolproof, method of extending your herb season. I’ve had healthy green herbs wither as soon as the indoor heat switches on in November, and turn a pitiful shade of yellow without the strong midday sun. For the best results, give your indoor herbs the sunniest spot in the house, and water them consistently (but don’t over-water, especially herbs like rosemary and sage that like drier, sandier soil).

What’s your favorite method of preserving herbs?