When your herb garden is flourishing so much that you have more herbs than you know what to do with and you have extra herbs even after you’ve shared some with friends and family and folks in need, what do you do with the surplus? Let's talk about ways to preserve your herbs so you can use them throughout the year.
A tincture is a liquid herbal extract that, when properly executed, can effectively preserve your herbs for months or even years. Tincturing is one of the simplest, most traditional ways to preserve herbs for medicinal use. The two most common menstruums for preparing tinctures are alcohol and apple cider vinegar. If you choose to use alcohol, you’ll want to use something that is at least 40 proof. If you have liver problems or prefer not to use alcohol, raw, organic apple cider vinegar can also be used for tincture making. The shelf life of vinegar-based tinctures is shorter (usually 6 months to a year or so, if properly stored), while an alcohol tincture could last several years. The menstruum you choose may impact which constituents are drawn out of your herb into the carrier, so if you’re interested in a specific action or component of the herb you’re using, you may want to choose your menstruum accordingly.
The Simpler’s Method of Tincturing: Fill a jar with your freshly harvested herb (or dried herb, if it’s one of the plants that prefers to be tinctured when dry) and pour your menstruum over the herb until the jar is full of the liquid. Tightly secure a lid on the jar, give it a good shake, infuse your remedy with intention, and leave it to macerate for 4-6 weeks, shaking it daily. At the end of that period, strain out the herb and bottle your finished tincture in a sterilized, labeled jar.
Note: Glycerin is also sometimes used to make tinctures (glycerites) and is a suitable option for preparations meant for use with children, folks who prefer not to take alcohol-based remedies, and animals. Glycerites can be effective, but are far less potent than either of the other two options.
Many herbs can easily be air dried. Harvest your herb, remove the bottom leaves from the stem, tie several stems together, and hang the bundle upside down for a couple of weeks. You can also use clothespins to hold individual stems upside down while they’re drying. Alternatively, lay your herbs out on a drying screen in a single layer and allow them to rest there until completely dried.
For thicker herbs that take longer to dry and may dry inconsistently, you might prefer to use a dehydrator to dry your herbs. Spread them out in a single layer on your dehydrator tray and dry until they no longer have any moisture left in them.
Preserving herbs via freezer can be one convenient way to preserve them for cooking. There are a few different methods that you can try.
In Water: Chop your herbs into the size you like them to be when you use them for cooking. Place the chopped herbs in the wells of an ice cube tray (fill ‘em up!) and pour filtered water over the herbs. Place the tray in the freezer and let sit until frozen, then remove the herbal ice cubes and store them in an airtight container for future use.
In Oil: This method offers two options. The first is to follow the same steps listed above for freezing chopped herbs in water (just substitute olive oil for the water) via an ice cube tray. The second is to blend your herbs with olive oil and freeze the pesto-like paste in ice cube tray wells or silicon molds.
On Their Own: Lay the dry herbs out in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray and freeze. Once the leaves are frozen, move them all into an airtight container and store in the freezer until needed.
Herb infused oils are one of my favorite tools for my apothecary. Many of them can be used in the kitchen to add flavors to dishes, while even more are wonderful for use in herbal products meant for use on the skin.
You can read more about infusing herbs into oil here. Infusing an herb into honey is another great option too.
Some herbs can be used to make syrups or jams / preserves that can then be canned to extend shelf life. Think Hawthorn berry jam, Elderberry preserves, Violet flower syrup… all valuable medicinally and able to be easily preserved via canning.
Making herbal butters is another traditional method of preserving herbs for use in the kitchen. Chop your herbs, fold them into butter, and freeze the butter for future use. You can either place the herbal butter into silicon molds to create pretty shapes, freeze, then store in an airtight container in the freezer, or you can spread the herbed butter out on a sheet of freezer/parchment paper, shape the butter into a cylinder (like a log), and freeze that for future use.
How to you like to preserve your herbs? Let me know in the comments below.