You may have a small herb plant or a whole bed planted out with seed.
The fresh cut-as-you-need-it is fine for each day, and gifting to neighbours and friends is one of the pleasures of growing but if you have a glut, you should harvest the herbs whilst at their best, which is usually at their most tender before hardening off later in the growing season. That way the stems are still soft, so the whole herb can be tossed right into your cooking, like thyme, rosemary etc. which will become quite woody later on if you wait. After cutting the lot, some will grow back, and this is more than enough for the casual pick-as-you-need-it 😉
This year I missed the sweet spot for tenderness but no matter – even if the stems have hardened, my thyme will freeze beautifully and I can deal with the stems later – read on…
Some folks dry herbs, but I like freezing. I freeze enough for the whole year. These shallow containers stack beautifully and are not so deep as to make the contents inaccessible. Here are my top tips for harvest and freeze:
- Grow organically without sprays, washing plants off the night before cutting and allow to dry in the morning.
- Cut in the morning as that is the freshest time but do wait long enough for dew to dry off so you don’t have too many ice crystals in the freezer container later.
- Brush your hand across the growing herbs a few times before cutting to encourage little bugs to escape impending doom.
- Use shallow freezer containers and don’t pack down too full, so that the herbs freeze with space around them rather than as a solid squished block.
- Don’t wash them after cutting!! Organic growing and prior washing in the garden (see above) means they are clean and dry so won’t wilt and be covered by ice crystals in the freezer. It gives you a ‘dry freeze’ effect.
- Don’t keep for too long out of freezer as they will start to then wilt in the container. Grab out tray, pinch desired amount out and get that tray back into freezer quick-sticks! . ‘Crumble’ your pinch/handful into cooking (this is where you can toss the stalks etc into your trenching/compost box if they are a bit hardened – no need for chopping). If you are successful at this, then your herbs will be crunchy, not frozen solid.
- Use stable containers designed to freeze – these ones are Decor brand, BPA free, and are not used for any purpose besides freezing (ie they are not heated). I have had and used the same ones for eleven years now. I have just the right number for my freezer, in three different sizes, all shallow and stackable. They just need a quick hand wash and dry, and ready to go again.
- Write with permanent marker on a smooth side so it can be wiped off with a quick spritz of rubbing alcohol or tea tree spray and relabelled next time.
- Frozen herbs are for cooking – their flavour is still perfect but of course they generally wilt upon defrosting. Some of the woodier herbs like thyme do stand up well after defrosting and can still be sprinkled on top of cooked food like soup.
So there it is – freezing is the BOMB.