QUESTION: Can you freeze fresh herbs? I have harvested too much to eat before it goes bad, and don’t want to waste it.
ANSWER: Freezing is a great way to preserve fresh herbs when your garden is producing more than you can use before they spoil. Basil, borage, chives, dill, lemon balm, lemongrass, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, savory, sorrel, sweet woodruff, tarragon, and thyme are especially good herbs to preserve in the freezer. There are a few different methods you can use to freeze your harvested herbs, from bare herbs on the stem to herb butter or infused oils, and we’ve provided instructions for each below.
Freezing bare herbs on the stem
Some herbs can simply be frozen on the stem, just as they were when you removed them from the garden, then stored in an airtight container. These include plants with sturdy foliage, such as bay, dill, rosemary, sage, and thyme. After washing your herbs, let them dry on paper towels, then spread them out in a single layer on a freezer-safe plate or baking sheet. When they’re thoroughly frozen, transfer the cuttings to an airtight plastic container made for use in the freezer.
If you’d like, you can freeze the leaves in layers separated by paper towels, but this step is not necessary. Because you froze them in the single layer before moving them into the container, they won’t clump together. Remove the amount you need from the container when you’re ready to use the herbs. Some more delicate herbs, such as chives and lemongrass, can also be chopped and frozen using this simple technique with minimal effect on their taste.
Freezing bundles of rolled herbs
Save yourself some time later by removing your herb leaves from the stem and freezing them in bundles of rolled-up leaves. This method works with herb plants that have flat leaves, such as basil, Italian parsley, and sage. First, wash the herbs, then remove the leaves from the stem and lay them on paper towels to dry. Once they’re dry, loosely pack the plucked leaves into a Ziploc freezer bag. Then, leaving the bag partially open so air can escape, tightly squeeze the leaves down to the bottom of the bag.
Once all the air has been pressed out of the bag, zip it closed. Fold and wrap the bag around the bundle of herbs to make a smaller bundle for long-term storage. Use rubber bands or twine to secure the bag, and keep it in the freezer you’re until ready to use the herbs. The leaves you stored this way can be used whole or they can be sliced or chopped—whatever your recipe calls for.
Freezing processed herbs in oil
Often when we cook with herbs, we’ll be using oil with them at the same time. For this reason, it’s convenient to freeze the herbs in oil when they’ll be an ingredient in soups, sauce, pasta, stir-fries, and other dishes that pair them with oil. Wash your herbs and strip the leaves from the stems, then add a cup of herbs to your food processor along with a quarter cup of olive oil. Use the pulse button to process the mixture until blended, then pour it into ice cube trays or the cups of a Styrofoam egg carton, and place in the freezer.
When the cubes of oil and herbs are frozen solid, you can move them to a freezer-safe container or plastic Ziploc bag to make them easier to store. When you’re ready to cook with your herbs, you can either thaw the frozen oil and herbs or simply add the frozen cubes to your cooking pan. With basil, you can go ahead and mix up your harvest using your favorite pesto recipe, then freeze the finished pesto sauce.
Freezing whole leaves in oil
You don’t have to have a food processor or blend your herbs to freeze them in oil—you can preserve the leaves intact with this technique as well. Simply wash your herbs and remove the leaves from their stems, then pack the leaves into an ice cube tray or the cups of a Styrofoam egg carton. Cover the herbs with oil and freeze in their tray until they’re solid all the way through. Store in an airtight plastic container made to use in the freezer or a Ziploc freezer bag, and you can thaw a cube or two at a time when you’re ready to use them, or add the frozen oil and herbs straight to your cooking pot.
Freezing in water
More delicate herb plants, such as cilantro, mint, or parsley, can be stripped from their stems and frozen in ice cubes for small servings that can be thawed for use one at a time. Simply remove the leaves from their stems, then pack the leaves into an ice tray or Styrofoam egg carton either whole or chopped, whichever you prefer. Pour water into the ice tray to cover the herbs, then move the tray into the freezer. Once the cubes have frozen completely, you can transfer them to a Ziploc freezer bag or airtight freezer-safe plastic container for long-term storage. The cubes of ice and herbs can be tossed right into sauces or soups, or you can thaw the ice and pour off the water, leaving only the leaves behind. Ice cubes with mint are a pretty and tasty way to chill beverages like lemonade or mojitos.
Freezing herb butter
Herb butter is a delicious summertime treat from the garden, but if you freeze some of your harvest in butter, you can enjoy this treat year-round. Wash a big handful of any mixture of herbs you’d like to use, remove the leaves from the stems, then roughly chop them. Stir the chopped herbs into half a cup (or one stick) of butter. You can also add chopped garlic if desired. Place the butter on top of a sheet of plastic wrap, and with your hands on the outside of the wrap, shape the butter into a stick. Keep the plastic wrap on, and place the butter in a freezer-safe Ziploc or airtight plastic container. If you make several sticks, you can store them all together and the plastic wrap will keep them from sticking to one another. Use thawed herb butter in recipes just like you would plain butter to make any dish more special, or you can use the herb butter to coat vegetables before roasting, smeared on corn on the cob, spread across the top of garlic bread, or dolloped on top of a steak or other cut of meat.