Twice as Tasty

Salt-Preserved Herbs and Herb-Infused Salt

Layering fresh herbs in salt lets you choose between using the whole leaves later or blending them into a flavored infusion

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

Each spring, I inventory last season’s saved herbs and make a list of what’s running low. Many herbs grow readily and are just as easy to preserve. When I can no longer savor a homegrown herb clipped right off the plant, my goal is to never buy its dried leaves – or even fresh ones if I can substitute a preserved form, like Compound Herb Butter or frozen pesto.

After drying herbs, the results can be used immediately. Other techniques, like salt preservation, require curing time. When I make the to-save list early, I have a better chance of remembering to salt-cure cilantro before it bolts and mint before the leaf tips brown in summer’s heat.

Whether you think of this technique as preserving herbs in salt or infusing salt with herbs (or both) depends on how you’ll use the result. Layering fresh herb leaves in salt – or incidentally, sugar – draws out water and interferes with enzyme activity, inhibiting bacteria and mold growth while preserving the herbs.

Salt-preserved herbs lose lushness and soften as they sit, but they stay flavorful and flexible enough that you can pluck them from the jar and use them like fresh herbs. The salt left behind has a mild herby taste that shines as a finishing or cocktail salt.

For a stronger herb flavor, crush in some preserved leaves to create herb-infused salt. Sprinkle it over freshly picked tomatoes, grilled fish or asparagus or even baked goods. When dipping into the jar, always use a clean spoon to avoid introducing bacteria and shortening shelf life.

Many herbs can be preserved in this way. Pluck large herbaceous leaves, like basil, from their stems. Herbs that are woody near the base but have softer stem tips, like thyme and rosemary, can be stripped entirely from the stems or snapped off where soft and hard meet.

Salt-Preserved Herbs and Herb-Infused Salt

Makes 1 cup

At least 3 ounces noniodized flaky salt

4 ounces fresh herbs, like basil, chives, rosemary or thyme

Evenly coat the bottom of a glass half-pint jar with 1 tablespoon of salt. Add a single layer of herbs, top with 1/2 tablespoon of salt and repeat until the jar is nearly full. Top with a 1/4-inch-thick layer of salt that completely covers the leaves. Seal the jar with an airtight lid and store in a cool, dark place or the refrigerator.

The next day, gently shake or tap the jar so that the salt fills any gaps; add salt as needed to ensure a thick top layer. Let infuse for at least two weeks.

To use the herbs, remove leaves from the jar, shake them free of salt and use like fresh in a recipe; keep the remaining herbs covered with 1/4 inch of salt. To infuse the salt, crush one part herbs to two parts salt with a mortar and pestle, or briefly pulse them in a food processor, until well combined. The herbs and salt will keep a year or more.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.