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I want to preserve my windowsill herbs before the plants die back, and my idea is to make herbal syrups for lemonades or cocktails. (Possibly even meat sauces.) The method I'll use is a cold, dry maceration - bruising herbs in sugar and leaving them in the fridge for a day or two for the sugar to absorb the flavour, and only using enough heat to dissolve the sugar later.

While this makes for superior flavour, the lack of boiling makes this prone to spoiling - my previous batches had weird gunk floating in them eventually.

I've read in other questions that freezing herbs alone can diminish their flavours. Can I, say freeze 1:1 or 2:1 syrup without this happening as well? Or maybe just freeze the sugar-herb mush once it's done macerating? (I'm hoping the flavours being bound in the sugar might help.)

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    I've heard that freezing the herbs in water helps w/ the flavor, but I've never done a side-by-side comparison. The water won't be a problem in most soups, and shouldn't think it'd be a problem with syrups if you adjust for the added water. – Joe Sep 14 '17 at 14:10
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Remember that whatever method of preservation you use you will always lose some flavor, there's no way to keep it all.

If you want to make a syrup for long term preservation then freezing them is your best bet unless you want to add preservatives which you don't really need to do if you have a freezer. A smart way to do it would be to pour the syrups into ice cube trays, then once frozen pop them out into zip lock freezer bags so you can use the trays for other things, and keep the ice from sublimating. I'm in favor of straining the syrup first, that way the cubes are ready as soon as they come out of the freezer.

Depending on the herb it may be more efficient to simply freeze the herbs directly. Thick herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme will do just fine while others like basil and parsley will turn to mush and you'll lose flavor.

Have you considered drying them? It's not hard to do, and there's plenty of how-tos out there, may be the best solution for thin herbs.

  • Really, my primary motivation for the syrup is that I want to experiment with cocktails. Dried herbs are readily available for other cooking even though they might not be as good quality as homemade; herbal syrups are not, and it's not really possible to flavour a cold beverage with dried herbs; and processing dried herbs into syrup is a world of difference in flavour from a cold-process syrup. Basically I want to bind the flavours in something while also trying to minimize processing steps that cause a loss of flavour to this end.. – millimoose Sep 14 '17 at 15:52
  • In that case frozen syrup cubes sound ideal. – GdD Sep 14 '17 at 16:21
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For cocktails, not mentioned in the other answers is the tincture, or preservation of some amount of the herb with some amount of alcohol (of some percentage alcohol). This may be noted as a ratio of for example 1:3, which means 1 part herbs (by weight) to 3 parts alcohol (by volume).

Consult a book on herbs for suggested ratios and what percentage the alcohol should be. (I've only read "alchemy of herbs" by Rosalee De La Forêt, which is where the above information comes from.)

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Probably there are more ways to preserve herbs (you didn't specify what herbs and not all herbs are suitable for this treatments), but here are some I have done in the past:

  • Dehydrate (on air, on the oven or on a dehydrator)
  • Freeze
  • Make herb butter
  • Make herb flavoured vinegar
  • Make herb flavoured oil
  • Make herb paste (Pesto)
  • Make herb seasoned salt

And answering your question, yes, frozen herbs lose some flavour. Some dehydrated herbs usually have more concentrated flavours.

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