There is nothing quite like herbs fresh from the garden to lift any meal.
But did you know that when your favorite garden herbs are out of season, freeze dried herbs are your best chance for that same fresh flavor burst?
Freeze drying significantly extends the shelf-life of herbs while retaining as much of their original nutritional value, taste and aroma as possible. Basil, spearmint, cilantro, thyme and oregano are all preserved more effectively by freeze drying than other common home drying techniques.1
I recently freeze-dried 11 different herbs fresh from the garden. Read on to discover the process I used and to see what the finished product looks like!
How to Freeze Dry Herbs
I love cooking with herbs straight from from the garden.
A sprinkle of parsley, handful of basil or a sprig of thyme and voilà, you add that fresh burst of flavor for your taste buds.
I also live in a hot climate where certain herbs tend to bolt (I’m talking about you cilantro) or lose some of their lush, green vigor during the Summer months.
By freeze drying herbs during their peak growing season, I can enjoy their flavor long after they have gone to seed (or to ground).
Here are the steps I followed to freeze-dry 11 different herbs.
1. Harvest the Herbs
The first, and most time consuming step, is to harvest the herbs you plan on freeze drying. I took my medium Harvest Right freeze dryer trays out to the garden with me so I could harvest an appropriate quantity of herbs to fill my trays.
Because I had so much parsley and cilantro growing, I filled an entire tray with each of these 2 herbs. The remaining 2 trays were divided into 4 sections and I filled these with dill, mint, basil, tarragon, bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, thyme and onion chives.
The stems were removed from all of the herbs so that I was left with just the leaves for freeze drying. The onion chives were cut into short sections (using scissors) but the remainder of the herbs were left as whole leaves.
You can repeat this process with whatever herbs you have growing in your garden. You can also use herbs purchased from a store or farmers markets if you don’t grow your own.
As a side note, you can chop the herbs in order to fit more on the trays. I have done this with parsley in the past as well as other leafy greens such as spinach, kale and Moringa.
2. Wash the Herbs
After filling my trays in the garden, I brought the whole lot inside and gave both the trays and the herbs a good rinse with fresh water. This was mainly to remove any critters that might have been living among the foliage.
Unfortunately, I missed a caterpillar or two that had been living on the cilantro and parsley. These were pretty obvious once freeze dried and made a nice crunchy snack for the chickens!
4. Pre-Freeze Your Prepared Trays
Once your trays are full of washed herbs, pop them in the deep freeze. This step is optional, but in my opinion, recommended, as it means a shorter cycle in the freeze dryer.
5. Run the Freeze-Dry Cycle
Once your herbs are frozen, it is time to fire up the freeze dryer! Begin the cycle then close the drain value and load the herbs into the freeze dryer when instructed (when the freeze dryer has cooled down sufficiently).
I have a medium Harvest Right freeze dryer and it completed the cycle in 24 hours. Your cycle length may vary from this depending on the temperature and humidity of your climate, the volume of herbs you have on each tray and whether or not your pre-froze your herbs.
6. Package the Herbs for Use/Storage
Depending on how and when you plan to use the herbs, the next step is to package them into appropriate storage containers.
I packaged some of my herbs into Mylar bags with an oxygen absorber for long-term storage, and others into glass jars for immediate use in the kitchen.
7. Use and Enjoy the Taste of Fresh Herbs!
There are so many ways you can use freeze-dried herbs, for inspiration, check out some of the ways I use mine below.
How to Use Freeze Dried Herbs
1. Use Freeze-Dried Herbs in Recipes That Require Dried Herbs
You can use freeze-dried herbs just like you would herbs dried by any other method. Keep in mind they may retain more of their flavor, and you may want to adjust the volume to taste. I personally substitute one-to-one as in my opinion, the more flavor the better!
2. Use Freeze-Dried Herbs in Recipes That Require Fresh Herbs
You can also use freeze-dried herbs in many recipes that call for fresh herbs. For example, I often use my freeze-dried dill in dressings in exactly the same way I would use fresh dill.
3. Use Freeze-Dried Herbs as a Garnish
Freeze-dried herbs also make a great substitute for a fresh herb garnish when the required herb is out of season. I don’t typically rehydrate first when doing this, rather, I let the herb rehydrate when added to the meal. For example, when garnishing a Laksa or curry with cilantro, mixing the herb though the meal allows it to rehydrate from the liquid in the meal.
4. Use Freeze-Dried Herbs to Create Seasoning Blends
A seasoning blend I like to make when freeze-drying a batch of herbs is Italian Seasoning. I created a blend using roughly equal parts of:
- Chili Powder (from a prior chili pepper freeze-drying session)
I use this seasoning mix in lasagne, bolognese, soups, pasta sauces and anything else that can use a herbie hit.
5. Use Freeze-Dried Herbs for Teas
Another use I often put my freeze-dried herbs to is creating herbal teas. Mint is a favorite of mine for this purpose but you can use any herb you like to add extra flavor to existing teas (pop a bit of lemon balm in a green tea), or as a stand alone.
6. Use Freeze-Dried Herbs However You Would Use Fresh
As you can see, the uses for freeze dried herbs are varied and many. You can let your imagination run wild and use freeze-dried herbs in any application you would use fresh. In some cases you may need to rehydrate first, but in most they will work just as they are!
FAQ’s About Freeze-Dried Herbs
Common methods for drying herbs are air-drying and dehydrating (in a dehydrator). The most notable difference between herbs dried using these methods, versus freeze drying, is the amount of moisture removed.
Freeze-drying is the most effective means of removing moisture and will therefore extend the shelf-life of the herbs beyond what can be achieved by air-drying or dehydrating. Because of the extra water removed, freeze-dried herbs will be lighter and crunchier, crumbling easily between your fingers.
Many herbs also retain more of their original nutritional value, flavor and aroma when freeze dried compared to other drying methods.
Freeze-drying has been said to extend shelf life of food to 25+ years and herbs are no different. When correctly packaged for long-term storage (in a Mylar bag with an oxygen absorber), your herbs should be good for many years to come. Once open, they will begin degrading and should be used in a similar time frame to herbs dried by other means.
In my opinion, freeze-drying is the best way to prepare herbs for long-term storage. Not only do you retain more of the flavor, color, aroma and nutritional value of the fresh herb, you also greatly extend the shelf-life. They are also relatively quick to freeze-dry so make a great quick fill-in batch between longer cycles.
In most cases, you can simply add freeze-dried herbs to your meal and they will absorb what little moisture they need to reconstitute from the other ingredients. Alternatively, spritz with a little water until the herbs absorb enough water to resemble their fresh counterparts.
Freeze-Dried Herbie Goodness!
There is nothing worse than finding a soggy bunch of herbs in the refrigerator, discarded after using the sprig or tablespoon, which was all that your recipe required!
Or watching your herbs bolt to seed and then needing them the very next week when they are well past their culinary prime!
If you want to have access to that herbie goodness all year round, without wastage, freeze-drying may just be the answer you are looking for.
What are you waiting for? Get freeze-drying today!
1) Grant Thamkaew, Ingegerd Sjöholm & Federico Gómez Galindo. A review of drying methods for improving the quality of dried herbs. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. Volume 61, 2021 – Issue 11. https://doi.org/10.1080/10408398.2020.1765309