Dehydrating and Freezing Herbs

Harvesting Herbs

Cleaning your herbs:

Damaged thyme leaves to be removed before washing in preparation for dehydrating
It is common for plants such as this thyme to have damaged or dead leaves. Pinch or snip them off.
Dead and damaged leaves have been removed from this sage.
The sage on the right has had any dead or damaged leaves removed. (Debris on left)

Place your herbs in a large bowl of water so the plant material has room to move with ease. If you have a large amount, work in small batches. I like to rinse in one side of the sink and have the strainer of my salad spinner in the other side to catch the herbs as I swish and remove small handfuls.

Time to clean the herbs in cool, clean tap water using plenty of water to flush away debris.
Time to clean the spearmint!
Washing mint in cool tap water to demonstrate the grass and debris that may not be apparent.
Note the bits of debris left behind after lifting out small handfuls of spearmint, swishing as we go!

As we swish the herbs freely in the water, any dirt, insects or other debris are rinsed into the water. Swish and lift small handfuls and transfer them into the strainer basket of the salad spinner.

TIP: If you don't have a salad spinner, you can lay your herbs in a colander to drain and then on a clean bath-sized towel. Pull the corners of the towel together and lightly roll and flip the towel to help to dry the leaves.

Dehydrator Method

Herbs in the Dehydrator
Herbs placed with ample airspace in the dehydrator.

Place a single layer of herbs, not touching, on the trays of your dehydrator. For best flavor, dehydrate at 95 - 110 degrees F. Times vary depending on the plant you are working with. My thyme took a few hours, sage twice that long. Herbs are ready when they snap or crumble between your fingers. Each has its own texture.

Sage keeps its shape even when dry, for example. It can be stored in whole leaves or rubbed between thumb and forefinger to crumble it into material similar to what you find in the market. Thyme crumbles easily leaving stems that are better picked out as they don't easily break down in cooking.

Store right away in sealed plastic bags or other airtight containers to prevent mold. Herbs left in the dehydrator will get soft again.

Air Dry Method

After washing, lay plants out on trays until they are no longer wet from washing. Tie in small bundles, allowing for air flow, and hang until dry. Or lay out on sheet trays until fully dry, turning frequently. A fan can help speed up this process. If humidity is high, it can be difficult to get the herbs to dry completely. Watch for mold.

Freezing Herbs

After washing, finely chop herbs. Put them in containers for use and freeze. Most herbs will freeze into a solid block so I like to freeze them in small amounts. Another solution is to freeze them on a sheet tray and then bag them once frozen.

My favorite method for freezing herbs is to chop them in the food processor and spoon them into an ice cube tray designated for this use (the lingering flavor of basil is not that good in a pitcher of lemonade - ask me how I know) . Once frozen, pop out the cubes and bag them up for long term storage. Then I can toss a cube of basil in a pot of sauce or use several for a batch of pesto.

Savor the flavor all winter long !!

Picking Herbs


Making Hay While the Sun Shines

Preserving Herbs

We've just experienced quite a flood here in Vermont! And still most days have a mild to moderate rain shower. The hours for gardening have been brief for weeks and one must optimize them. After a recent rain shower and more in the forecast, I decided to harvest some garden herbs. As the rain came down, I worked indoors to clean and preserve my harvest.

My little herb garden has grown each year and now contains some hearty perennials -

Horseradish - won't be harvested until late October or early November.
Thyme ready to harvest
Sage ready for harvesting
Spearmint ready for harvest.

Harvesting in mid summer is beneficial for several reasons:

  • Many herbs have a spreading habit and can create chaos in the herb garden. Pruning contains plant growth, ensures adequate sunshine, prevents crowding, and allows for adequate air flow. Giving the plants more room helps to prevent bacterial and fungal infections in plants which can occur under crowded conditions.
  • You get fresh herbs to use now!
  • Pruning encourages fresh plant growth and removes areas of insect damage and dead foliage which can become havens for pests and disease.
  • Makes future harvesting easier
  • Delays blooming which degrades the quality of the leaves as the plant redirects all of its energy to making seeds.
  • Pruning off diseased or insect damaged parts helps to determine whether the damage is ongoing.

How to harvest:

Note the branching growth pattern of this mint (Before). A new shoot emerges above each leaf. You want to clip the stem just above a leaf joint - where the leaf meets the stem (During). What remains are two side shoots which will develop rapidly (After). Many herbs grow this way and benefit from this same type of pruning.

Mint Needing Pruning
Spearmint crowding the horseradish showing the need for pruning

This mint is crowding the horseradish and because of all the recent rain, one of my goals with this harvest is to let the sun in and improve airflow around the plants to help them recover from excessive rainfall. The mint will make a lovely tea, fresh or dried for winter use.


The spots on the horseradish leaves look like Alternaria or Cercospora spot, both are common fungal pathogens affecting horseradish and worsened by wet weather. Horseradish will not be harvested until late October or early November.

Basket of Herbs
A basket of thyme harvested in the same way as mint.

Collect your herbs in a towel lined basket or basin and add a fresh towel between types of herbs to make separating them in the kitchen easier. The black spotting on this thyme will be clipped off in the kitchen before washing. As the rain begins to fall, it's time to head to the kitchen to clean and dry the harvest

Now to the kitchen to clean and preserve our herbs!!

There are several methods of preserving the harvest  for later use. They are canning, freezing, pickling, dehydrating and fermenting. Each has its benefits and drawbacks. Let’s take a look at them.


Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about dehydrating veggies, fruit and more


No electricity or space in the freezer is needed to keep dehydrated food.

Dehydrating preserves more nutrients because only low (or no) heats are used.

Fun, simple way to preserve your own herbs.

Some foods such as apple leather can be made in the oven.

Dehydrated foods are great to have on hand to toss in a soup or eat as a snack.


Dehydrators are an expense and many foods need a dehydrator to adequately dry foods. It is a romantic notion to make sun dried tomatoes, but it can be a challenge to get it to work in an area with late summer humidity, a run of cloudy days. Insects or mold can be a problem.

Dehydrated foods that are not tightly wrapped can take on moisture and spoil. Properly dried foods should snap and break when bent. 

To make your own dehydrated ginger (or other garden fruits and vegetables):

Pick your produce and dehydrate it before it withers and wilts.

I grew ginger for the first time in my garden. It was just delicious and so pretty and I learned quite a lot growing it. One thing I learned is that fresh ginger doesn’t keep that long in the refrigerator. Realizing this, I decided to dry the bulk of it for later use in tea, curries, baked goods, etc.

Ginger Harvest

Wash your ginger, scrubbing off any clinging dirt. Set aside to dry on a towel. 

Cut off tops before the green section begins.

Cut bulbs into ⅛” slices. 

Consider putting a few back bulbs into a pot and letting them overwinter there if you are in a climate where the ground freezes.

Place slices on dehydrator racks in a single layer allowing a bit of room between the pieces.

Most recipes tell you to peel ginger. Clean it, scrub it to remove any loose bits of dirt or skin, yes. But I don’t feel it is necessary to peel it. Make sure you clean any crevices where dirt may be hiding. 

No dehydrator?? Try this in the oven:  Place the slices on an oven tray at LESS THAN 150 degrees F. This will take 10 - 15 hours.

Set the dehydrator temperature between 110 and 140. When the ginger snaps and breaks upon bending, it is done! Let it cool and then store in an airtight container. Make sure you don’t  leave it sitting for a long period of time after it is done cooling, as it may take on humidity and not keep well. 

You can also do this with purchased ginger which has the brown skin that develops when the root has been out of the soil for awhile. It is a great way to make sure you have some ginger handy for a curry or batch of cookies. It is greatly superior to commercial powdered ginger.

Watch Joyce demonstrate making fruit leather with WCAX

Dehydrating Herbs: 

Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about dehydrating herbs

Most herbs can be air dried. Just tie the stems in small bundles and hang them up to dry. Keep the bundles small so there is adequate air circulation. Trapped moisture spells mold. If sprigs of herbs are too small to tie in bundles, lay a towel on a sheet tray and spread the sprigs there, again allowing adequate circulation. The drying time varies with the plant and the humidity level. Make sure to take them down before they begin to gather dust. Store in an airtight container. 


While it may seem tempting to toss your vegetables in the freezer just as book book they are, hold up just a moment. You need to know that even after you pick them, your vegetables continue to ripen because of enzymes present in them. This will continue even in the freezer. You need to blanch them to stop the action of the enzymes and retain the greatest amount of flavor, quality and nutrition. 

This is called blanching. It is basically dipping your vegetables into boiling water for 1 - 3 minutes and then chilling in an ice bath, draining and then packaging for the freezer. 

Many berries and fruits can be frozen without blanching.  Even though Ball has stopped producing it, I rely on the Ball Food Preservation books. If you don’t have one or can’t get one, a comprehensive guide on food preservation is available here - USDA Guide to Home Canning. You can also purchase it as a print USDA Canning Guide, Spiral Bound.

Food expands when it freezes!  You must leave adequate “head space, ” usually ½” is adequate, to prevent the cover coming off or the container breaking.

As much as I dislike plastic, I use plastic for storing food. I have tried glass jars, but they seem particularly prone to breakage when full of frozen food. So I use BPA free containers and bags. 

One cool device that I employ frequently is a vacuum sealer. It sucks all the air out of your food and so helps to prevent that freezer burn taste. It can also crush some food, so try it and see if you like the results. 

Put bagged food in the freezer laying flat until it is frozen for easy stacking.

Freezer “boxes” stack easily. Square ones are the most space efficient.

The instructions and recommendations are different for each food. The above resource is a good guide. 

Watch Joyce demonstrate making raspberry freezer jam with WCAX

Read my freezer jam article featured on the University of Vermont website

Canning Food

Watch Joyce talk with WCAX about canning tomatoes

It is the current consensus that canning is only safe for high acid foods. My upbringing would argue that. But let's stick with that rule for safety’s sake. The concern is that botulism can develop even in a sealed environment and a case of botulism is a very back case of illness at best, or deadly even.

By following the USDA guide, you will avoid problems, but you must follow instructions.

Keep your canning jars in a pot of simmering water until you are ready to use them. (Your canning kettle can be used for this). 

Dilly Beans! Yum!

Fill the jars with hot food.

Add lids. Place in the canner and process according to instructions for that food. 

Take the jars out of the canner with a jar lifter and set them on a wooden board or other heat resistant surface. A hot jar placed on a marble countertop can shatter. 

I cover my jars with a towel because my mother told me to. It may be an old wive’s tale, but I get to think of her every time I do it.

I use a pressure canner. They are more expensive, but I feel they are worth it. They use a fraction of the water so come up to boiling quickly. Then you just wait for the pressure to come up and time from there. You will want to read the instructions carefully for your model. If you find an older model at a yard sale, you may need to purchase new weights and a new rubber seal. 

Every few years, you will likely need to replace the seal. You will know because the kettle won’t come up to pressure. It is wise to get a new one before you need it.

Read my article about canning fresh tomatoes 

Sauerkraut with carrots


Pickling is basically preserving in apple cider vinegar. The high acid content keeps pathogens from forming and gives us… PICKLES !

Watch Joyce walk you through the process with WCAX TV

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods use naturally occurring bacteria to naturally increase the acidity and thus preserve food and prevent the growth of pathogens. 

Coming soon: Sauerkraut with carrots and Kombucha

There is no fruit so versatile as a tomato fresh from the vine. Canning the surplus further expands its versatility to hearty winter dishes, sauces, soups, and juice.

You will need canning jars (inspect for cracks and roughness on rim), screw bands and sealing lids, a canning funnel, a jar lifter and water bath canner with rack, food mill (for puree).

Wash jars, lids and rings in soapy water. Rinse well. Bring to a simmer in a pot of water maintaining a simmer until ready to fill. Do not boil. 

For all of the following instructions, add 2 TBSP lemon juice to each quart jar (1 TBSP / pint).

For whole or cut tomatoes: Submerge clean tomatoes in boiling water for 30 – 60  seconds or until the skins begin to crack. Immerse for a few seconds in cold water. Drain. Cut out stem. Slip off the skins. Cut as desired. 

There are two methods for filling jars. For hot pack, cover tomatoes in a pot of water. Simmer for 5 minutes. Ladle into jars. For cold pack, place tomatoes into jars. For either method, top off jars with hot water, leaving head space as above.

For tomato puree: Core and quarter the unpeeled tomatoes. Simmer over medium heat for 22 minutes. Adjust heat as needed to prevent burning. Press tomatoes through a food mill or cone strainer to remove skins and seeds. Fill jars with hot puree, leaving head space.

The canning process: 

Fill your canner (with rack) about 1/2 full of water for pints and adjust for quarts so water will be 1 above jars. Bring to and maintain a simmer. Set a kettle to boil in case you need extra water.

Run a knife up and down the edge of the jar to release trapped air bubbles. Wipe the jar rim with a clean damp cloth, add lid and turn the screw band on just until you feel resistance. Use tongs to lower jar into the simmering canner. Repeat as needed.

Add boiling water to canner if needed to cover jars by at least 1” water. Cover.

Bring to a boil and maintain a steady but gentle boil - 45 minutes for quarts or 40 minutes for pints. Remove jars to a towel, leaving at least an inch of space between them. Let cool for 12 – 24 hours. You may hear the popping sound as they seal. Check each jar by removing the band and pressing on the center of the lid. A sealed jar lid has no flex to it and you can't lift it off. 

Refrigerate or freeze any unsealed jars. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place. When the north wind blows, put a pot of soup or chili on to simmer and be enjoy the delicious pleasure of preserving your bounteous harvest. 

Note: For more information on canning tomatoes, visit

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