Preserving the Harvest: Fresh-Frozen Herbs in Oil, Butter, Broth or Water…

August 26th, 2010 § 51 comments

Frozen Herb Cubes with Olive Oil: Photographs Copyright Michaela Medina – thegardenerseden.com

At six o’clock this morning, I was rather annoyed to be awakened by a gang of squawking bluejays. But when I rose, I discovered a beautiful rainbow on the western horizon. Suddenly, I found myself feeling more than grateful for the wake-up call from the noisy, blue boys in my ‘hood. The rain has ended for now, and the morning sun is warm on the terrace, where I have set up my office for the day. But before I start work on plant lists for a garden design I’m working on, I have a neat garden project to share with you. Inclement weather kept me indoors early this week, providing me with a bit of free time and the opportunity to freeze fresh herb-cubes for winter. This project is simple and fun; easy as making fruit-pops and a great way to teach children about preserving food from the garden. If you also make a few juice pops at the same time —to reward the little helping hands— so much the better!

Fresh Herbs from the Garden

Begin by gathering empty ice cube trays (or egg cups or small freezer molds), zip-lock or other storage bags, and bundles of fresh herbs from the garden. Bring the herbs inside, and as you wash, dry and pick through the leaves, think about how you might like to use them over the coming months. Do you make lots of soup in winter? Set aside a few bundles of your favorite soup herbs. These can be frozen in cubes of room-temperature water, vegetable broth or chicken/beef bouillon. Do you like to fry or roast with herbs? Bundles of your favorite cooking herbs can be preserved by freezing them in vegetable oil (I like to use light olive oil for high-temp pan frying). If you like to use herb butters or herb-infused oils for bread dipping, you can freeze them in butter (softened or melted over very low heat and cooled a bit) or in extra virgin olive oil, to pull out of the freezer later and enjoy at room temperature all winter long.

Separating Fresh Herb Leaves for Simple Frozen Oil Cubes

Tear or chop the herbs into small pieces or individual leaves, depending upon how you plan to use them at a later date. Next, load ice cube trays, egg cups or other freezer molds with the clipped herbs. You can separate individual herbs into molds or you can mix them in combinations you frequently use together. I make both individual herb cubes and various combinations. I started with olive-oil cubes for pan-frying this time. Once my compartments were filled with herbs, I began filling the cubes with oil, topping each herb mold with one or two tablespoons of light (frying) olive oil. Then I made herb cups with melted butter and extra virgin olive oil. Finally I put away large quantities of herbs preserved in vegetable broth (you can use any kind of broth) and water (for herb tea and soup).

Simple Cubes of  Olive Oil with Fresh Basil and Olive Oil with Fresh Rosemary – Ready to Stick in the Freezer

Once the molds are filled, freeze them overnight. You may wish to make a note of the herb content and oil/water measurement in each tray. Once frozen, it can be tricky to identify the herbs. I do freeze in batches and make notes to avoid confusion later. Once removed from the freezer, pop the cubes from the trays and slip them into labeled plastic bags. I write the name(s) of the herbs, the fluid measurement, and the date on my bags. Then, I store them flat in the freezer (they should remain in separate units, unless they melt – so work quickly!). Now, you can enjoy fresh herbs in your cooking all winter long, at a fraction of the market cost!

After Freezing for 24 Hours – Remove the Cubes from the Trays and Separate into Labeled Ziplock Bags. Store Flat in the Freezer.

There are many ways to preserve and store your garden produce. This particular method of freezing herbs has been around for a long time —my mother and grandmother used to preserve them in this way— and it works very well. If you are interested in learning more about how to preserve your garden produce, I highly recommend the two books pictured and linked below, which I reviewed for Barnes & Noble’s Garden Variety Blog in June (click here to read the post on B&N, where you can also purchase either book). Both titles contain new & old ideas —freezing, drying, root-cellaring and more— for preserving the harvest.

Buy How to Store Your Garden Produce from Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

Buy Putting Food By at Amazon.com or Barnes and Noble

An Early Morning Visit to the Potager – Gathering Herbs and Edible Flowers for Lunch

Article and photographs ⓒ 2010 Michaela Medina – The Gardener’s Eden

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§ 51 Responses to Preserving the Harvest: Fresh-Frozen Herbs in Oil, Butter, Broth or Water…"

  • Deb Weyrich-Cody says:

    Thanks for another great idea (and I’ve added “Putting things By” to my Book List too)! :)

  • suesue says:

    Thanks for the tips! I love fresh herbs and will definitely try this out!!

  • Courtney says:

    How long can you freeze them for?

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Courtney, I’ve used herbs (frozen at summer’s end) throughout winter and into early spring. I should think the herbs would remain fresh-frozen for six to eight months. Beyond that they may depreciate in quality, and you’ll likely find yourself with a new supply in the garden by then. Enjoy them. I sure do! xo M

  • Régina/ says:

    Thanks for the idea, I’ll have to try whether this method will preserve the aroma of coriander.

  • Linda says:

    What sort of tray do you have there? I like that mold, it is bigger than ice cubes! Where can I get one? Thank you!
    Linda

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Linda, There are two trays pictured here. One is a plastic refrigerator tray for holding eggs and one is a large-sized, round-mold ice cube tray, found at a tag sale. I have a few different trays with various mold shapes. I like the rounded ones best, and yes, the larger size is nice. I haven’t seen any off-sized molds in regular stores, but you might try a specialty kitchen shop. Or, you could haunt yard sales for quirky finds. ;) Have fun! M

  • i LOVE This idea. Do you mind if we share on our blog with a link back to you? will be doing this asap…. Ann Kelly

  • Linda says:

    I have an abundance of cilantro in my garden. First time it has grown so beautiful and I am sure it is due to the nice cooler weather we have been getting.
    I mainly use cilantro in Mexican dishes, so the freezing in water or oil would not work in my case. Do you think it would be possible to freeze in lime juice in ice cube trays seeing as most of my recipes require the lime juice anyways.

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Linda, I would definitely give that a try. I freeze mint in lime and/or lemon juice all the time (another great combo for recipes)! I have successfully frozen cilantro in water, for use in soup. I can’t imagine why lime wouldn’t work equally well. Have fun! ;) xo M

  • Miho says:

    Thank you so very much for this wonderful post! It didn’t even occur to me that you could freeze herbs in oil!

    I will certainly have to try it now :)

  • Jennifer Jehle says:

    Love this idea! Thanks for sharing it :)

  • Kirsty says:

    This is a fantastic tip, thank you. Much better than dried herbs as they will retain that “fresh” look.

  • Laura says:

    I have a lot of cilantro on hand. I know it is a delicate herb so will it hold up in this case?

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Laura, Yes, in my experience, cilantro must be picked when very fresh and immediately frozen. Even then, it will lose some of that delicate texture. I use the cubes in soups and other recipes where the fresh flavor is what I need. For guacamole or salsa, I would still want fresh picked cilantro. Let me know how your experiments go! xo M

  • Michconnors says:

    This is such a great idea! Thanks for posting.

  • khushi says:

    Thank you… I am an Indian… we do need herbs in lots of our food.. I get very upset when they get wasted… Thanks for the gr8 idea.

  • Michaela,I love it! We do this at our deli- “Fresh” STAYS fresh. (And so convenient.) Garlic works well too. Love your inspirational pic :D

  • Mili says:

    Can’t wait to try this, thanks.

  • Trinie says:

    I have tried freezing herbs in the past, but have never done to oil, butter, juice combinations. What great ideas…

    To those of you who want to do cilantro… it gets a cooked spinach consistency after it’s been thawed. I agree with Michaela, fresh is best for cilantro in salsa. It would be fine in soups, but it doesn’t slice up well for salsa. The taste was there, but the texture was wrong.

    Thanks Michaela and others for the freezing in lemon/lime juice idea. LOOOOVE it. :)

  • FReya says:

    This is neat idea! Thx for sharing Michaela :)

    Do you think it would work as well with other oils – vegetable, sunflower, etc.?

  • Michaela says:

    Hi FReya, I have used a variety of oils and all kinds of freezable liquids. My favorites thus far are olive oil, coconut oil, ghee & butter and vegetable oil. I haven’t tried safflower oil. I encourage experimentation with small amounts. You will have results in 24 hours. Check back in and share your discoveries! xo M

  • Autumn says:

    What a fantastic idea! I am curious to know what type of container you used for your larger quantities of herbs? Do you have large molds or just put them in freezer bags with broth and laid flat in the freezer?

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Autumn, I use round ice cube trays, egg cups and other forms to freeze the herbs in cubes (I like the size/shape of round ice cube forms best). Once the cubes are frozen, I like to store them in zip lock bags (marked with date, name of frozen liquid, herb and measured amount of liquid) of various sizes. I like to lay them flat for storage, so the cubes stay separate. I’m sure you could use other, freezer-safe containers (like tupperware style freezer containers) if you like. I have a big freezer with many individual shelves… So laying the herbs flat works best for me. ;) I think the most important step in storage is to carefully label the bag. It can be difficult to distinguish between the oils, broths, etc., once the cubes are frozen.

  • Kerstin says:

    I do this a lot! But pro-tip: Only fill the cups half-way first when you freeze them, then once the first layer is frozen, fill the rest of it up. This guarantees that the herbs are completely covered, and you won’t have herbs frozen on the top layer like that, becoming super susceptible to freezer burn!

  • Michaela says:

    Thank you for that pro tip, Kerstin. Sounds like a good two step method.
    I haven’t noticed freezer burn on the rosemary cubes, but I do store them in zip lock feezer bags and use them up before winter’s end. Of course, I have to admit that in the photo essay here, I left the sprigs poking out because I thought they looked pretty for the lead image! Usually, I chop things up a bit more. I can be such a pushover for pretty! ;) Michaela

  • Christine says:

    Have you tried this with garlic and onions, too?

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Christine, Actually I have not tried onions. I grow many, many onions, shallots and garlic and prefer to dry store them in my root cellar and/or braid them (see post here) . You can freeze garlic, but the only way that I have done that is in oil or butter combinations, for dipping, spreading or salad dressing use. Because of the size of the cubes, it’s a method best reserved for small quantities. One of the advantages of the small cube is, of course, that it melts quickly. Try a little bit and see what you think. This method is so simple and truly invites experimentation. Thanks for the good question. ;) M

  • Karen says:

    Going to try your wonderful idea now with Basil..
    Thanks for the pictures..
    Karen

  • Michaela says:

    Hello Karen, I hope it works well for you! Enjoy and let me know how it turns out. Sometimes I freeze the basil leaves whole, and other times I chop or pulse them fine in a blender, depending upon how I plan to use them. I find the flavor of frozen basil in olive oil is very good, even if some of the texture is compromised by the freezing. I live in a very remote area and I can’t always drive to town. Freezing makes the fresh flavor of basil available to me in my kitchen, even during the winter months. Thanks for commenting! M

  • Kristin says:

    Amazing! Thanks so much for the great idea!

  • Michelle says:

    Thanks for the awesome idea! This will definitely come in handy when I can’t bring myself to throw away herbs I’m not able to use right away.

  • Michaela says:

    @ Michelle – You are most welcome. Glad you found the post and I hope it helps you to save herbs! xo Michaela

  • Detektei says:

    Such a beautiful idea, I will do this tonight! Another nice adaption would be to put the herbs in normal icecubes fur special cocktails!

  • Michaela says:

    Yes, I love usng mint in lime juice cubes for mojitos! So many possibilities with frozen flowers, herbs, fruits, etc.!

  • Hillary says:

    I am wondering if these have to be frozen right up until use! I would like to give them as gifts!

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Hillary, Yes, the herb oil cubes must remain frozen until use. The olive oil or other frozen fluid will return to its liquid form at room temperature (one notable exception is coconut oil, which will remain solid at average room temps). So unless you can keep the package frozen, your gift will melt in transit. If you would like to give your preserved herbs as gifts, I might suggest homemade and bottled herb vinegars or herb oils (follow proper food preservation tips via USDA). You could also bundle dried herbs into swags, sachets or wreaths. ;) Michaela

  • Sara says:

    I have heard that it’s important to blanch before freezing herbs and vegetables. Are there some herbs which really need the blanching (ex. basil)? Thanks in advance for your feedback! ~ Sara

  • Michaela says:

    Hi Sara, No, you do not need to blanch herbs before freezing them. Herbs freeze best unheated. You can puree basil in olive oil and freeze it in a paste or make pesto and freeze it (both uncooked). Some foods do freeze better when blanched, but not all. Canned foods and jars (not frozen) are a different story entirely. When it comes to safety, no matter how you preserve, it’s best to check the USDA regs, their websie has detailed information available about food safety, here online.
    Freezing uncooked herbs is safe, so lompng as they remain frozen until use.
    ;) Good question! Happy preserving. Michaela

  • Rhonda says:

    Oh, I can’t tell you what a blessing this idea you posted is! I have a large herb garden & was contiplating what to do with all the harvest. I seem to have everything this year from different basils to french tarragon, thyme, rosemary, and many others. What a wonderful way to do something different besides drying them. From one gardener to another I say hats off to you. I will be starting this project tomorrow! :)

  • Shannon says:

    It’s a great idea! I tried cilantro in grape seed oil and it didn’t freeze. I even turned the freezer colder! The broth and butter worked great! I actually sautéed the cilantro for just a moment in butter then put it in ice cube trays. Set nicely! Am planning in trying other herbs!!! Thanks!

  • Lynda Estabrook says:

    Enjoyed your post. Look forward to saving more of my basil with your method next year. Please keep me posted on future posts. Thanks again.

  • Michaela says:

    Thank you for commenting, Lynda! You can subscribe to the blog through WordPress notifications by selecting that option at the bottom of this article, below the comments box. Have a great 2013! M

  • Jean Pearce says:

    Would love to follow you by email notification

  • Michaela says:

    Hello Jean, If you scroll down to the bottom of comments and click on the email notifications options, wordpress should send you an email whenever there’s a new post published. Thank you for following along! Happy New Year! M

  • Laura says:

    Wonderful idea ! I Live in the south south of south América in tierra del fuego argentina(you can see the map? ) so the winter si Cold and de summer si cool about 15 .c. I have the herbs in a Greenhouse I ‘ll try tour method Thanks!!

  • Solange says:

    Olá!!! Achei muito interessante, vou fazer também em casa.
    grata pela informação de grande valia.
    um grande abraço

  • Heather says:

    This is such an awesome idea!! I’ve never thought to freeze herbs like this even though I’ve been freezing all of my broth and meat drippings for years… never occurred to me to freeze oil and herbs!!! And it’s really pretty!! Thanks for sharing! I’m going to wrap up a few cubes and gift them for a birthday present!!
    Namaste!!

  • Jaime says:

    Has anyone tried using muffin tins?

  • Libby says:

    I love this idea!!

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