Growing fresh herbs is a wonderful way to add flavor to your culinary dishes, but if you live in a climate that experiences cold weather, outdoor growing time is limited. Freezing herbs is a great way to preserve an abundant summer harvest.
How to Freeze Herbs
Frozen herbs retain their taste, smell, and nutritional benefits, so you can freeze a surplus of herbs throughout the harvesting season to enjoy later. In addition, frozen herbs have a long shelf life (up to one year), whereas, fresh herbs should be used within a few days.
Freezing Whole Herbs
Hearty herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, and oregano freeze well whole. Follow these steps to freeze fresh, whole herbs:
- Give herbs a gentle shake to loosen any debris. If the herbs are very dirty, clean them by misting gently with a spray bottle.
- Place the clean, whole herbs in a freezer bag or freezer storage container. You may also use this method to freeze fresh chopped herbs.
- Label the freezer bag or storage container with the date and name of the herb, and place in freezer.
- Once frozen, use the herbs as needed. They'll crumble easily.
Making Herb Ice Cubes
This method is perfect for fragile herbs such as mint, dill, cilantro, and parsley or herbs that you plan to use in sauces, soups, and teas.
- Clean and finely chop fresh herbs.
- Fill approximately two-thirds of each section of an ice cube tray with chopped herbs.
- Cover the herbs with water, or other liquid, and freeze.
- Remove frozen herb cubes from the tray and place in freezer bags or freezer storage containers. Be sure to date and label.
- To use herb ice cubes, simply drop them in your recipe or drink as needed.
Be creative with this method of freezing herbs. For example, if you love to make spaghetti sauce, freeze a combination of chopped Italian herbs in olive oil instead of water, or freeze chives in melted butter to top hot baked potatoes. Make mint or lemon balm herb cubes to add a refreshing twist to your hot or iced tea, or freeze parsley in chicken broth to add to chicken soup. You can also create fruit and herb ice cubes. For example, freeze a few sprigs of mint with some lemon.
Freezing Pureed Herbs
Freezing pureed herbs is another easy way to add flavor to sauces and stews.
- Clean, and coarsely chop, or tear your fresh herbs.
- Puree fresh herbs in a food processor (or blender) with a little olive oil, broth, or water.
- Pour puree into ice cube trays, and freeze.
- Once frozen, remove the puree cubes, and place in a labeled freezer bag or freezer storage container.
- Remove, and use as needed.
Herbs that Freeze Well
Virtually all herbs can be frozen, but some hold up better than others. The Complete Illustrated Book of Herbs by Reader's Digest states that the best herbs for freezing are those that have a high water content or very delicate leaves that may not stand up to traditional drying methods such as:
- Bay leaf
Some herbs may lose their color and texture when frozen, so only freeze herbs that you plan to add to a dish for flavor (such as a sauce or stew), use in herbal teas or use in another herbal remedy. Frozen herbs should keep in the freezer for up to one year when stored properly; however, if they are not sealed properly or are frequently exposed to cold air, they may get freezer burn and lose their taste, scent, and health properties.
In addition to freezing fresh herbs, you can also freeze dried herbs. However, dried and frozen herbs both retain their health and culinary properties and have about the same shelf life, so there really isn't an advantage to freezing dried herbs unless you are trying to save pantry storage space.
Tips for Freezing Herbs
- Only freeze herbs that are clean and have no discoloration.
- For the best health benefits, only freeze herbs grown without pesticides.
- Before freezing whole herbs, make sure they are completely dry (a salad spinner is great for this).
- To avoid unwanted mingling of scents and tastes, avoid freezing strongly scented herbs together. For example, you probably wouldn't want to freeze cilantro with sage or thyme.
- When using a freezer bag, eliminate as much air as possible before sealing the bag.
- Mason jars can be used in the freezer to store whole or chopped herbs.
- Use frozen herbs within one year.
- If frozen right after they're harvested, most herbs retain their medicinal benefits so freezing is a convenient way to keep them on hand.
- Herbs meant for use in herbal teas can be frozen using the ice cube method.
- Herbs meant for use in salves or beauty treatments that don't require extra water content can be frozen dry.
Enjoy Fresh Herbs Year Round
While nothing beats adding fresh herbs to a recipe, freezing herbs is the next best thing. It's an economical and easy way to enjoy the culinary and health benefits of herbs all year long.