late 14c., preserven, "keep safe or free from harm," also "act so as to insure that something does not occur," from Anglo-French preservare, Old French preserver, Medieval Latin preservare "keep, preserve," all from Late Latin praeservare "guard beforehand," from Latin prae "before" (see pre-) + servare "to keep safe" (from PIE root *ser- (1) "to protect").
From early 15c. as "maintain, keep in a certain quality, state or condition." Of fruit, etc., "prevent from spoiling by use of preservative substances," 1570s; of organic bodies, "keep in existence or alive," from 1610s. Related: Preserved; preserver; preserving.
"fruit preserved with sugar," c. 1600, from preserve (v.). Earlier it meant "a preservative" (1550s). Sense of "protected place for animals or plants" (a sense more properly belonging to conserve) is from 1807. The verb preserve in the sense of "maintain and reserve for special use in hunting or fishing" is from 1610s.