What to do with all those Herbs

As the frost and the end of the season necessitate the clearing out of the herb garden there are lots of great ways to stock up on flavor before they go. Below are instructions for drying and storing herbs, making pesto, infusing oils and fats, and freezing herb cubes.

Prepping the herbs

Pick off any leaves that are too tough or damaged and rinse any that need it. The less you handle the herbs the better but if you do wash them, a salad spinner will get the herbs on their way to drying without damaging them too much. If you are not hanging them to dry, pick out the parts you want to keep (this varies by herb) and compost the rest.


Drying herbs is easy and quick. You can use a dehydrator or temporarily turn your car (or in warm, dry weather your window sill or patio) into a dehydrator – place the herbs on cooling racks on any flat(ish) surfaces, close the windows and let it sit in the sun until the herbs are dry. This can take a few hours or a few days depending on the weather and where the herbs are. Herbs on the dash or near windows on a bright day don’t take long at all. You can also dry herbs in an oven on low, though this isn’t ideal because most ovens don’t go low enough (the ideal temp for drying herbs is 100 degrees Fahrenheit and 60% humidity or less).

Another option is to hang the herbs to dry. Gather the herbs into small bunches tied with string (rubber bands get tricky when the herbs become brittle) and hang upside down until dry. Don’t wait too long to take them down or they will gather dust. Once dry it is easy to pull the leaves off the stems into a big dry bowl or towel.

Storing and Using Dried Herbs

Dried herbs typically last between a few months and two years – longest when stored in a tight container (such as one with a screw top or lid with a rubber seal) out of the sun. You can store them whole or crushed, alone or in seasoning mixes (herbes de provence, italian).

If a recipe calls for fresh herbs and you are using dry, the substitution depends on the strength of your dried herbs; smell or taste them and then use your judgement. For very strong herbs you can use as little as a third the amount the recipe calls for. If your herbs have lost their potency you can use as much as or even more than the recipe calls for. One way to perk up dried herbs that are on their last legs is to toast them in a pan for a minute or two.


Pestos are another great way to preserve herbs. Some classics are basil, parsley, basil/parsley, and cilantro but the possibilities are limited only by your imagination. If you like to cook from a recipe recipes for pesto can be found on the internet but often you will get better results by winging it! Start by cleaning the herbs and (if necessary) drying them off. Process together any nuts, garlic, or other hard ingredients then add the acid and finally add the oil and herbs at the same time. Taste and adjust as needed. Add any grated cheese last and if you are freezing the pesto you can even wait and add the cheese when it is thawed for use. The ratios below provide a starting point for experimentation – you really can’t go wrong!

  • 3 c herbs
  • 1/2 c oil
  • 2 Tbsp acid (such as lemon juice)
  • 2 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 1/2 c roasted nuts (optional)
  • 1/4 c grated cheese (optional)

Infused oil

There are a number of different ways to infuse oil with herbs but the most important thing to remember is that moisture in the oil allows it to become rancid so you want your ingredients and containers to be as dry as possible.

The first method works best for fresh herbs. Prep the herbs and set them out to dry a day or so before using them. Bruise or crush them, pack them into a clean, dry jar or bottle and pour in enough oil to cover them. Close tightly and let sit (ideally in a window sill or other sunny spot) for a week, shaking occasionally. Drain the oil using a sieve or cheesecloth and taste it for strength – if it needs more flavor simply repeat the process with new herbs!

You can also infuse oil over heat, a method which even works for using dried herbs or infusing lard and butter (since they are liquid when heated). Again, prep the herbs and let them dry for a bit if using fresh. Heat up the oil and put in the crushed or bruised herbs, cover and cook for about 3 hours. When done, let the oil cool, drain, taste and repeat if necessary.

Store the finished product as you normally would for the fat or oil in question.

Herb Cubes

A convenient and creative way to store herbs is by freezing them in ice cube sized piece and using them to flavor soups, stews, roasts, and other dishes. Chop the herbs or leave them whole (depending on their future use) and pack them into an ice cube tray, filling each well about 2/3 of the way. Then pour water, stock, wine, oil, butter, or other fat to cover the herbs and place in the freezer. As soon as they are frozen pop them out (if you wait too long they will dehydrate) and put them in a freezer bag or other labeled container. Freezing does change the flavor of some herbs, especially softer ones, so as you experiment you will figure out what works for your tastes and what doesn’t. Herbs frozen in fat or oil will infuse said fat or oil and can be used to add flavor to any recipe that calls for a small amount of oil – just put the cube right in the skillet or pot!

Happy seasoning!