Tips & Techniques for Preserving & Using Herbs

Many of us may not feel up to planting and tending a full-size garden but we do manage to grow a few herbs.  When there is excess, here are some methods for preserving and utilizing that green essence.  Don’t forget, you can always share any excess with neighbors and co-workers!

Hardy Herbs:

You will find these tougher with more assertive flavor.  Including: bay, marjoram, oregano, sage, savory, rosemary, and thyme.

Tender Herbs:

In general these herbs are lighter and have more delicate leaves.  Including: basil, chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, mint, parsley, and tarragon.

As a rule, the hardy herbs are best when they have time to cook.  Add whole sprigs, such as rosemary and thyme, early in the cooking process for soups, stews, and braises to allow time for them to release their flavor.  Remove them before serving.  Most tender herbs should be added toward the end of the cooking period, and very delicate herbs like cilantro and parsley are better off added off heat so their flavors provide accent only and maintain freshness.  

MEASURING TIP:  When converting measures of fresh herbs to dried herbs, you should use about ¼ or ⅓ as much dried as fresh.  Conversely, if you want to use fresh instead of dried, use three to four times more.


More tender herbs, including basil, chives, cilantro, dill, parsley, and tarragon are best preserved by freezing.  Frozen herbs will last up to a year when stored with one of the following methods.

METHOD ONE:  Freezing Herbs in Ice Cube Trays

As you get an excess of herbs, take each kind and give it a good chop on the cutting board.  Then take an empty ice cube tray and measure 2 tablespoons of herbs into each compartment.  After the trays are full then pour a small amount of water into each square.  Take the tray to the freezer and freeze the cubes.  As soon as they are frozen, transfer the cubes to a plastic storage bag and label each bag.  Keep all of your baggies of herb cubes in a larger container so your cubes don’t get scattered in the freezer.  

When you need flavor in a sauce or soup just plop a cube into your recipe.  If you want the herb but don’t want the water that’s frozen around it, simply place the cube in a little strainer and run water over it.  Within a few seconds the ice will melt away and you’ll be left with the leaves only and the amazingly fresh taste of the herb.  

METHOD TWO: Freezing Herbs in jars or baggies

When your herbs are at their peak, gather the leaves, wash them and pat them dry.  Use a lettuce spinner to get rid of the excess water and maybe a hair dryer to dry the leaves thoroughly.  Take your food processor or blender and place the leaves inside.  To help the leaves get minced add a little olive oil and minced garlic.  Puree this mixture, stopping now and then to scrape down the sides.  If you don’t want added oil or garlic then you might prefer to simply cut your herbs manually on a cutting board.

At this point, whether you us the board or or the processor, fill small, four ounce jars with the mixture and store them on the door of your freezer or just put small amounts in baggies and twist.  Be sure you label everything and put all the bags in a larger container to keep them together.  

METHOD THREE:  Freezing Herbs in Butter

Combine ¼ cup chopped herbs (or more) with one stick, room temperature butter.*

Transfer to a large piece of plastic wrap and roll the mixture into a log shape wrapped in th plastic wrap.

Wrap each one well with additional plastic wrap and then place several logs inside an airtight container or storage bag.  Label & date.  The butters should be stored in the freezer and will keep for up to six months.

These compound butters are a quick way to flavor pasta dishes and grilled fish or meat.  They can be used to make soup base, used as sandwich spreads or simply served with rolls or artisan breads.

*In addition to using herbs, you can include minced fresh garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, rinds of citrus and ground spices.  

METHOD FOUR:  Drying Herbs

  1.  Pick herbs when their flavor is at their strongest.
  2. Gather on a dry day, tie them in bundles and hang in a warm room away from strong light.
  3. Herbs will generally dry in 3-5 days.
  4. Rub the dried leaves and flowers onto paper towels and then place them in airtight containers and store away from the light in a cool place.

Pesto is probably the most popular  and beloved herb paste.  We most frequently see it made with basil but there are variations that can be created with other fresh herbs.


2 cups coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves

3 large cloves garlic (or more, if desired)

½ cup pine nuts

¾ cup grated parmesan cheese

⅓-⅔ cup olive oil

In food processor combine basil & garlic, process until finely chopped.  Add pine nuts and cheese.  Puree again until the mixture is almost smooth and then gradually add the olive oil to form a moist paste or thick sauce, depending on your preference and application.  Store in fridge in an air tight container or freeze in ice cube trays to use later.


Try substituting other fresh herbs for basil, including parsley, cilantro , and mint.  Pine nuts can be replaced with walnuts, almonds, peanuts, or even pecans.  Parmesan cheese can be omitted or other grated hard cheeses can be used.  Consider adding roasted peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, ripe olives, or green olives.  

For example: A great Asian style pesto might include predominantly basil (1 cup) but also part cilantro (½ cup) and mint leaves (½ cup), for a total of 2 cups of herbs.  Use roasted peanuts for the nut and include a small amount of fresh ginger root and maybe some jalapeno peppers and lime juice.  I would omit the cheese in this variation and replace the olive oil with peanut oil or vegetable oil.  Salt to taste.

Pesto is an ideal mixture to have on hand because it can be incorporated into so many foods.  It can be tossed with warm noodles or pasta for a side dish, it can be used as a spread for sandwiches, pizza and bruschetta.  It can accentuate a pasta saute, and a few tablespoons can be added to a creamy or vinaigrette-style dressing for salads and marinades. 

Hungry for more? Check out Chef doughty’s book; The Chef Within Dinner Edition.  Find more information and order your copy online here:

Meet Chef Doughty

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We know her as part owner of Silvercreek Realty Group and the smiling face behind the brokerage accounting department, but did you know that Joyce Doughty has an affinity for culinary arts?

Chef Doughty is a successful food writer and restaurateur who hosted the nationally syndicated daily Public Radio food program “Food for Thought” for 17 years and was also host of the local ABC affiliate morning program “In the Kitchen” highlighting practical recipes and techniques for the kitchen. Recipient of the James Beard Foundation Top Three Chefs in Idaho Award and owner and chef of Idaho’s critically acclaimed Doughty’s Bistro. Chef Doughty was trained at Le Cordon Bleu and received her executive chef certification from the American Culinary Foundation.