Extending an abundant herb harvest - how to make frozen herb cubes

Frozen herb cubes are an easy way to extend the harvest of herbs. There are certain times of year when some plants are just so abundant in my permaculture garden that I don't know what to do with it all, and there's other times when I wish I could find just a snip. Right now I am wishing I had made some frozen herb cubes with my sweet basil and coriander plants when they were over-abundant a few months ago.

Chopped rosemary (flowers and leaves), oregano and thyme.

In my garden now I don't have sweet basil or coriander and I crave their flavours in my meals.  I suppose this is good. When they are flourishing again in my garden I will appreciate them even more and delight again their aroma and flavour. 

Sweet basil

My usual pattern is to harvest fresh from the garden before a meal, foraging for what looks the best that day. I often discover little surprises too - plants that have self-seeding. In the subtropics I can do this - there is something growing all year round. There's always lots of plants for flavour - oregano, marjoram,  thyme, rosemary, garlic chives, welsh onion, lemon myrtle, vietnamese mint, lemongrass, tulsi...

Part of my mammoth oregano patch - usually a lower creeper, but here heading upwards before it flowers.

Freezing foods, and preserving in general, has not been in my frame of thinking - until recently. I have been an avid lover of ferments for some time - since becoming a kim chi convert in Korea, and was taught how to make my own by the grandmothers in rural Korean villages and a wonderful Korean WWOOFer.  (WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is the international work-exchange program where people come and work on your organic or permaculture property for 4-6 hours in exchange for food and accommodation. )

Back when I was growing up - in my mind, preserving was the domain of the older generations, not something our 'modern generation' did. It always seemed connected with older women - like the Country Women's Association stalls with their rows of jams, marmalades, lemon butter and pickles all made with the little fabric tops trimmed using pinking shears.

I didn't grow up doing this - our family just ate freshly, and this is what we tend to do now.  I used to like getting a jar of the 'old ladies' preserves, but it never entered into my mind that I would make those things.

We mostly bought food (good food), cooked it and ate it - simple, or so it seemed - but this was only on the surface.  I have come to completely rethink my attitude, as a society we are coming to rethink our attitudes.  Food is not just to fill your tummy, and a collection of nutrients. Food nourishes far more than our bodies, it nourishes our minds and emotional well-being, and is central to our culture. Through connecting around food we create deep meaning, and can support resilient communities.

My perception of a simple life is one which embraces local and slow food, home made and home grown products, and a way of life that is low-impact and has low-energy use. The simple life is a connected life - connected to earth, place, community, family, self, garden, home....

With this frame of thinking, it's definitely time I changed my pattern - or at least added new dimensions to it - to embrace the art and science of preserving food. I want to know more about preserving, drying, infusing, freezing, fermenting... My aim is to learn new skills all the time about this. I have so much to learn.

A very simple starting point is making frozen herb cubes. It's such a great idea for capturing those wonderful basil and coriander moments - so is making more pesto!  Being in the subtropics, preserving seems less about ensuring enough food - because there's something all year round.  Its more about making the most of the seasonal abundance and extending the season of available produce...about wasting less too.

Until now, my (solar powered) freezer has had very little use - just for ice cubes to add to my fresh lime juice, and for making homemade frozen icy poles for the kids from our juice or smoothies. I actually I selected my fridge because it had the smallest freezer:fridge ratio, which makes it more energy efficient.

I'm not planning on getting a bigger freezer, but perhaps making better use of it. Soon I'll use up a lot of it to store our big crop of bananas that are beginning to ripen. We'll eat what we can fresh, I'll dry some, we'll make banana smoothies,  banana pancakes, banana bread, choc-banana cake. What we still have left over I will peel and freeze make banana ice-cream (just frozen bananas pureed).

We've starting eating the bananas - so delicious and so incredibly filling! They felt somehow so much more dense than the ones from the shop.  Another couple of these on their way.

I have just made a batch of frozen herb cubes as my trial, using what's currently abundant - rosemary and oregano. I think they'll be great for adding flavour to soups and pasta sauces. I am going to try two different ways - freezing in water and freezing in oil - like making a kind of frozen pesto. Freezing in oil I think will better retain the powerful flavours of the fresh herbs.

Making Frozen Herb Cubes

  1. Chop the fresh herb leaves to your desired consistency
  2. Divide them among the sections of the ice cube tray
  3. When the ice cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and store in a sealed container - labelled of course with the herb name and date of freezing. 
  4. For freshness, it's preferable to use them within a year.
You can use the same method for freezing edible herb flowers.

    Chopped herbs distributed across the ice tray.

    Segments topped up with water before going into the freezer.

    Frozen herbs - rosemary (leaf and flower), oregano and thyme ice cubes

    Making Frozen Herbs in Oil

    1. Collect 1 cup of fresh herbs
    2. Puree in a food processor with 1/4 cup of olive oil or another mild oil.
    3. Pour into ice cube trays
    4. When the herb cubes are frozen, remove them from the tray and store in a sealed container with a of the herb name and date of freezing. 
    If herbs are frozen straight after they are harvested, they will maintain more of their nutritional benefit. Drying herbs can loose over 50% of their nutritional and medicinal benefit. Rather than using dried herbs for teas, try using these cubes of freshly frozen herbs.

    There are so many ways to use and preserve the abundance that herbs bring to gardens. When I go and do talks around the region,   love hearing about different ways people use their herbs. I have learnt so much from these conversations and from farmers and gardeners everywhere. Let's all keep talking and sharing to keep this knowledge alive and spreading, and inspiring new ideas.

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