Herbs: Preserving the Bounty & Flavor of the Season!

Looking for some tips on growing, harvesting, and using herbs? This week we’re featuring a special guest blog by Northside Community Garden Leader and Mentor, Sarah Johnson. Sarah grew up in eastern Washington climbing trees and picking huckleberries. Her love of nature evolved into an agricultural journey that took her to farms in western Washington & south to Central America. From Guatemala she landed in North Idaho where a one season commitment on an off-grid organic farm quickly turned into five years! In 2014 she moved to Missoula with her soon-to-be husband and quickly became a fan of Garden City Harvest. This is Sarah’s second full year as a Northside gardener. When she’s not gardening Sarah works as a nurse at St. Patrick’s Hospital, enjoys cooking, basket-making, and exploring the great outdoors!  


It’s that wonderful time of year when the garden is starting to fill in and long gone are the first cold days of spring. It’s the time of year when the parsley you planted starts to produce, the basil begins to bud, and the spring arugula begins to go to seed. Buying bunches of fresh herbs at the farmer’s market is practically irresistible! With just a little effort you can keep them fresh for up to a week or longer or you can use different methods to freeze or dry your herbs keeping summer flavors available throughout the year.

Stunningly unusual basil found by Sarah while working at Killarney Farm. Photo by Sarah Johnson.

How to keep herbs fresh:

Whether your herbs are freshly harvested or purchased, trim the ends and place them in a glass of water. Most herbs will keep on the counter for several days. To keep them fresh longer place a plastic bag over the herbs and place them in the fridge; some herbs will keep up to a week or more this way. Rinse your herbs if they appear wilted or muddy before trimming ends and placing in water.

Keeping herbs fresh. Photo by Sarah Johnson.

Drying herbs:

There are multiple ways to dry herbs. Some herbs have higher water content than others and respond better to one method of drying versus another. Low water content, woody herbs like oregano and rosemary dry well tied into little bundles and hung upside-down in an out-of-the-way place. The herbs may be placed inside a paper bag while hanging to catch any fallen leaves. Cutting holes into the side of the bag increases the ventilation for the drying herbs.

Herbs with higher water content such as basil, mint, or tarragon can mold easily and dry better with plenty of air circulation accomplished by spreading the leaves out flat and not overlapping. An old window screen set in an area with good air circulation and out of direct sunlight makes an excellent drying surface. They can also be dried on the lowest oven temperature spread out on a cookie sheet or dried on a low setting in a food dehydrator.

Freshly dried herbs should be stored in an airtight container such as a re-purposed glass jar or a plastic Ziplock bag. Dried herbs can be kept for up to 2-3 years but are best used within one year as the intensity of the flavor decreases over time.

Rosemary. Photo by Sarah Johnson.

Freezing Herbs:

This method works well for small amounts of leftover herbs. Simply chop the herbs with a knife or food processor, press them into an ice cube tray and cover with water or an oil of your preference. Place into the freezer and once frozen transfer from the ice cube tray to a plastic bag or jar to help avoid freezer burn on your frozen herb cubes. They make great additions to sauces, soups, and more in the middle of winter!

Larger amounts of herbs may be processed as pesto! Traditionally thought of as an Italian sauce made of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, the basic ingredients can be substituted to create a pesto alternative of your choice.

I typically fill my food processor with my chosen herb, drizzle with a generous amount of oil and then pulse until the herbs are chopped. I then add the nuts/seeds, garlic, cheese, and any other addition that I fancy. Blend until the desired consistency is reached, adding in more oil as needed. Salt to taste.

Once the desired consistency is reached, use a spatula to transfer the pesto into containers or plastic freezer bags. Frozen pesto keeps well for a year or longer if kept in an airtight container. Labeling your pesto with the type & year is always recommended!

Pesto Components:

Herbs: Cilantro, Dill, Parsley, Basil, Mint…… Etc.

Nuts/seeds: any nuts or seeds, most often sunflower seeds, or neither

Oil: any oil will do!

Garlic: As little or as much as one desires, may be omitted

Cheese: Parmesean or any appealing hard cheese; may also be omitted entirely

*other additions may be added such as salt, hot peppers, honey, lemon juice, etc.

I tend to make my pesto according to taste and available ingredients without using a recipe, however there are endless recipes available online or in standard cookbooks to use as a guide when creating your own pesto variation.

Making pesto. Photo by Sarah Johnson.

For more information on the care of your herb plants throughout the season I invite you to attend the Herb Workshop on Tuesday, July 12th at the Providence Hospital Garden (Map) from 5:30-6:30pm.