Simple ways to successfully preserve garden fresh cilantro

cilantro growing in garden

If you’ve grown a bumper crop in your garden here are some favorite recipes and tips for how to preserve cilantro so it tastes great and is easy to use in delicious dishes all season long.

One of the joys of planting your own herbs is that it’s easy to grow more than you can possibly eat fresh. Especially since most recipes only call for a pinch of fresh herbs to finish the dish. That definitely won’t help you utilize the garden bed bursting full of culinary herbs out in your yard!

Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to use up large amounts of herbs that result in tasty meals and even a freezer full of fresh sauces and pesto that can make cooking in the off season super easy and incredibly delicious.

 

 

How to Grow Cilantro

Although we’re focusing on how to preserve cilantro in this article, the first step is to actually plant and grow cilantro successfully in your garden. Growing cilantro can be tricky, especially at certain times of year, because it has a tendency to bolt, or push up a flower head, resulting in inedible cilantro that’s more concerned with reproduction (making seeds!) than pumping out leaves for you to harvest.

I share all of my tips on how to grow cilantro like an expert and especially how to deal with cilantro bolting.

cilantro in garden bed with flowers and trellis

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Harvesting Cilantro from the Garden

When your cilantro plants are still small you can start harvesting by clipping off the outer, biggest leaves with a pair of garden shears or harvest scissors. (I like these these and these best for harvesting.)

As the plants get bigger and fuller, you can treat them more like a cut and come again crop like salad mix. Take your scissors and cut down a section of the row, however much you need for whatever you’re making that day.

Make sure to leave about an inch of growth so the plant can push out more leaves for you to come back and harvest in a few weeks. (The included video about growing cilantro shows me harvesting it in this way in my garden.)

As you’ll find out below, fresh cilantro doesn’t last very long in the fridge. So, it’s best to just harvest as you need it for recipes.

But, there are times when you’ll want to harvest most of your cilantro. The first when it’s about to bolt in late spring or early summer. You should cut down the entire bed to try to prolong the inevitable. You might manage to get another small harvest this way.

And in the mid-fall, if you live in a colder area, you’ll need to harvest your cilantro before it gets killed by the increasingly cold weather. Cilantro is frost hardy, but it does start to get damaged when the temperatures dip into the low 20’s F. 

At these two times in the season you’ll likely end up with more cilantro than you can possibly eat. That means it’s preserving time!

fresh herb harvest from garden

How to Preserve Cilantro Quickly & Easily

Now that you’re growing cilantro successfully and clear about how and when to harvest, let’s dive into the multiple options for how to preserve fresh cilantro. We’ll walk through the pros and cons of each method and I’ll share my favorites.

Storing Fresh
Cilantro doesn’t last very long in the fridge, so that’s precisely why we’re talking about how to preserve it for longer term use in this article. But, if you do have a handful you’ve harvested that you’d like to use in a recipe in the coming days, you can store it in the fridge for a short period of time.

The best way to do this is to put the bunch in a glass jar filled with a few inches of water and then cover it with a plastic bag.

The water will keep the cilantro hydrated and the plastic bag will prevent the fridge from sucking the moisture out of the leaves. You’ll want to use the cilantro within about a week before it starts to turn brown and/or yellow.

It’s not ideal to store fresh cilantro in a plastic bag in the fridge because the leaves tend to get brown and mushy very quickly. At the very least, if you do end up placing it in a plastic bag, you should make sure the leaves and stems are loose, not tied in a bundle, so there’s more air circulation.

My sister stores her cilantro washed and loose in a salad spinner in the fridge, which seems to work great at lengthening its storage life.

With all of these fridge storage methods the cilantro likely won’t last much more than a week. You’ll have to use it up quickly!

Dried
Dried cilantro doesn’t have much taste or smell. This is not a method for preserving fresh cilantro that I would recommend.

Freezing
I would choose freezing cilantro over drying it in a heartbeat! The end product will be much more tasty and closer to fresh cilantro. That being said, although frozen cilantro retains more of its taste than dried, it’s still not the same as using fresh cilantro.

You’ll want to use it in cooked recipes instead of as a chopped garnish like you would with fresh cilantro from the garden or store.

Option #1: Whole Leaves
If you’re short on time and energy you can simply freeze the leaves of cilantro in a freezer bag. Remove the leaves from the stems and place into the bags. The cilantro won’t retain its bright green color with this method, so you’ll want to use it in cooked dishes like soups and casseroles.

Option #2: Cilantro Ice Cubes
The second option is a little more labor intensive, but would be a great option if you have a lot of cilantro to preserve and/or you like the idea of having cubes to throw into recipes.

Place the cilantro into a food processor with enough water or oil to make a thick paste. I use both the stems and leaves in this method. In fact, I just cut down the cilantro in my garden and shove the whole thing into the food processor.

When the cilantro and oil or water is mixed nicely into a paste, fill an ice cube tray with the slurry and freeze. When they’re completely frozen transfer into your container of choice. You can use freezer bags, wide mouth glass quart or pint jars, or any kind of freezer safe container. I’m not a big fan of plastic, so I use glass whenever I can.

Depending on how you’re going to use the cilantro cubes, most of the time you can just throw the whole thing into the dish without defrosting.

jars of cilantro sauce preserved for winter

My Favorite Way to Preserve Cilantro

In our house we have a saying, “It’s all about the sauce.” The way we tend to eat, especially in winter, is centered around making one bowl recipes that feature a base like rice, noodles or quinoa, a bunch of roasted or sautéed seasonal vegetables (whatever is coming out of the garden), and a protein. And on top goes (you guessed it!) a special sauce!

Over the years we’ve collected quite a menagerie of favorite sauces. Many of them feature herbs as their main ingredients. These sauces would be very expensive to make in the winter, when herbs sell at high prices at the grocery store.

That’s why I focus on making these sauces during the summer when I have herbs bursting forth from my garden and freeze them for winter.

Having them on hand makes whipping together dinner super easy and speedy. And even better, the sauce always takes the dish to next level deliciousness.

Here are some of my favorite herb sauces that feature cilantro as an ingredient.

Pesto
I make a lot of pesto for the winter. My specialty is garlic scape pesto and it’s also one of the ways I teach people how to preserve basil. A few years ago I started mixing other herbs into my pesto recipes to mellow them out a bit. You can definitely mix cilantro in to any of your favorite pesto recipes.

Some pesto recipes in my rotation:

Cilantro Hemp Pesto Recipe from Cookie and Kate

Vegan Pesto Recipe from Love and Lemons

Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe from my website

My Base Pesto Recipe that starts with basil but can feature any herbs.

I freeze pesto in half pint or full pint glass jars and store them in my chest freezer for up to a year. Although they never make it that long!

preserved cilantro sauce on roasted vegetables

Herb Sauces
The aforementioned veggie bowls that are a staple of our dinnertime meals year round would not be complete without a tasty sauce on top. There’s nothing like a vibrant green summer sauce in the middle of winter to brighten up your evening!

These are my top picks.

Chimichurri from the Blender Girl

Cilantro Lime Dressing from Love and Lemons – We use this more as a sauce than a dressing.

Zhoug or Shatta from Cookie and Kate – These are both spicy and are great mixed into hummus or used more like a hot sauce.

Green Tahini Dressing from this recipe by Cookie and Kate – We use this more as a sauce than a dressing. Great with pasta and vegetables!

Asian Taco Sauce from Sprouted Kitchen – We love tacos at our house because they’re quick and easy and you can load all kinds of toppings onto them. These tacos feature shiitake mushrooms and French green lentils topped by an Asian Taco Sauce. When you read the recipe it might sound like an odd combination of ingredients, but trust me, it works!

I make big batches all of these recipes, pour them into half pint or full pint glass jars, and keep them in the chest freezer. 

herbs grown in garden

Once you master the techniques of growing cilantro successfully it’s very possible to grow larger amounts that will inspire you to make many of these flavorful and vibrant pestos and sauces.

The extra effort to preserve cilantro during the summer gardening season will be worth it because you’ll be rewarded with a stash of ingredients that will make cooking during the winter a joy and having you exclaiming, “It IS all about the sauce!”

Additional Resources for Growing and Using Herbs in Your Garden

FREE MINI COURSE
My free mini-course, Getting Started  Growing Herbs in Your Garden, is a small taste of the below Masterclass. The mini-course features 5 videos and worksheets to help you:

  • Learn why growing herbs is SO easy and worth it!
  • How to choose which herbs to grow in your garden.
  • Where to plant your herbs so they’ll be successful.

Start watching here.

MASTERCLASS
My how-to video series, All About Gardening with Herbs: Your Guide to Growing, Harvesting, Cooking With, & Preserving a Bounty of Herbs, is my most popular class! If you’re ready to delve more deeply into the wondrous world of growing your own herbs, find out more here.

 

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