How to Save your Fresh Herbs

Here in Florida, summer is beginning to wind down.  No, not according to the temperature (I think Florida might falsely believe that summer is actually 10 out of 12 months per year), but school starts back up in about a week and a half for the students here and that is always the signal for me that fall is coming.

As summer draws to a close, I find myself eager to take advantage of the fresh herbs that grow so abundantly in the backyard at this time of year, but I don't always have an immediate need for it all.  So what do you do when you have a huge pile of freshly harvested flavorful homegrown herbs and nothing to do with it?  Save it for future use, of course.  During the winter months when the plants are not as bountiful, it is so convenient to have a freezer full of herbs from the garden. 

Over the years, I've tried a few different methods of saving herbs, and I've found that the silicone muffin tray method is by far the easiest and most effective.  I do not use silicone for baking (I don't personally like the results) but I use my silicone muffin tray all the time for freezing things.  Not just herbs, but left over sauces as well.  If you don't have one, I imagine an ice cube tray would be a decent replacement.  However, it is a very handy thing to have around and may be a good investment. Here's how to do it:

Step One: Prepare herbs and place into a well of the muffin tray. There are 2 ways to do this:

  1. Freeze in oil: For herbs such as basil that will ultimately be used with oil, clean and pat dry your herbs.  Place herbs in food processor and add enough oil until it become a thick mixture.  You can even go ahead and prepare a pesto with all other necessary ingredients (cheese, garlic, nuts) and freeze it.  Then when you need some pesto for a recipe, taking one of the pesto cubes out of the freezer and thawing it makes for very quick and easy prep! 
  2. Freeze in water: For herbs that will not be used in recipes with oil (mint, parsley, sage, etc.), place herbs in the wells of the muffin tray.  Chopped or whole herbs both work fine, but I find chopped is easier to work with. Slowly pour water over the herbs to fill the wells and cover the herbs.  Careful to not go too fast or your wells will overflow! I recommend placing the the silicone tray on a cookie sheet and fill the wells about 3/4 full to allow for easy transport into the freezer without spillage.

Steps Two: Place muffin tray in the freezer until completely frozen.  When completely frozen, it should be able to be easily removed from the tray as one solid piece.   

Step Three: Pop out the frozen herb mixtures from the silicone muffin tray.

Step Four: Place in a freezer bag and label.  I like to provide myself with as many details as possible on the label, such as "1/2 cup packed mint in water" or "Walnut Basil Pesto".  This way I know exactly what I'm working with before thawing.  

Coming soon on the blog: a delicious cookie recipe to use up some of your fresh mint leaves!