Preserving Herbs for the Winter
Written by: Shannon Corlett, MS, RDN, LDN
As the weather continues to cool, some of the herbs in your garden are at risk to not make it through the winter. But that doesn’t mean that you must sacrifice all that delicious flavor for the next couple months. Fresh herbs provide a wonderful way to flavor all your dishes without added salt and storing them for the cooler months can help keep some of the fresh summer flavors available all year round.
One method to preserve herbs is by freezing them with olive oil in ice cube trays, and then adding them on the stove top when cooking. I choose to skip the oil because it leaves me more flexibility for use in different cooking methods — one example being the herbaceous soup recipe I’ve added at the end of this blog!
Each herb likes to be harvested a little differently, but good knowledge for most is that the stem you cut cannot re-grow from the same place. I prefer to cut a little lower, or to select the whole stem, so that the plant can focus its energy on growing other areas. Basil is a little picky and likes to be harvested at one of the triangles where leaves are protruding from either side. If you’re not sure if you’re harvesting correctly, or notice that your plants are dying off after cutting, bring pictures and ask your dietitian for help! Note that during the summer most harvesting is best done in the early morning before it gets hot. Once a plant is cut, avoid leaving it in the heat or direct sunlight to avoid wilting.
Washing and Prepping
After harvesting, remove any excess stems or dying leaves from the plants. Run under lukewarm water and remove any dirt or debris. Take your time and be thorough; anything left on the plants could end up frozen and be part of your next meal! After washing, dry in a salad spinner or lay out to dry. Rotate and flip the plants over time to make sure all excess water is removed. If they are not completely dry, the remaining water will crystallize when freezing. Notice the yellow hint to my basil? Too much water! These pictures were taken after many days of rain and my herb boxes just couldn’t remove the water fast enough.
Either before or after drying, take time as desired to remove any parts of the plant you would like. Most can be frozen whole, but I prefer to do the work ahead of time so that when I use them in the future a quick chop is all they need. For example, I will de-stem most of my herbs and for the smaller stems (like thyme) remove any part I think is too thick to cook with in the future.
Labeling and Storage
Once you have all your herbs completely dried and prepped, label appropriately sized Ziploc bags with the name and date of each herb (for this batch I only needed snack- and sandwich-sized bags). After adding to the bag, remove as much air as possible and seal. Lay flat in the freezer and use over the next three months!
Herbs pictured: thyme, peppermint, parsley, oregano, basil, and rosemary.
Sample recipe with frozen herbs (available as a freezer meal in Avance Care’s 3rd cookbook):
All-Vegetable Crock Pot Minestrone Soup
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 6-8 hours
Makes: 6 servings
28 ounce can no salt added diced tomatoes, undrained
4 large carrots
3 cups fresh green beans
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons fresh or frozen Italian herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme, etc.)
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon black pepper
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- Wash and dry all vegetables. Peel carrots and slice into bite-sized pieces. Remove the ends of the green beans and cut into similarly sized pieces. Peel and chop the onion.
- Add all items to a slow cooker and cook on low for 6-8 hours.
- Remove bay leaf and serve warm.
Serving Size: 1/6 of total recipe
Calories: 79, Fat: 0g, Protein: 3g, Carbohydrates: 18g, Fiber: 5g, Sodium: 195mg