Preserving Your Herbs
Herbs are meant to be used, either fresh or dried. During the growing season, there should always be a steady supply of your most used culinary herbs, close at hand. Whether you have a windowsill planter, a container on the patio or a lovely herb garden within steps of your backdoor, remember to USE THEM. Fresh is best, and remember to use as soon as possible after harvesting. And, donít forget the edible flowers! As we move into the fall, itís time to think about PRESERVING YOUR HARVEST Ė preserve the fresh flavors of herbs for year round use! If your annual herbs are still thriving, begin to harvest before frost.
- the peak time for both flavor and fragrance is just before the plant flowers in the spring - harvesting can continue as the plants grow. Simply cut back flower heads to discourage flowering, and promote top-quality leaf growth.
- annual herbs can be harvested until frost, but give your perennial herbs a month or two to Ďharden offí before your expected frost date.
- always gather your herbs in the morning, on a dry and sunny day and avoid any stems that are diseased or pest ridden.
3 Methods of Preserving Herbs
Herbs are easy to keep, and there are basically 3 ways to ensure the flavor: drying, freezing or incorporating into an oil or vinegar infusion.
1) Drying Herbs
- air drying is easy and all you need to do is tie bunches of stems tightly with a string or a rubber band, and hang in a warm, dark but well-ventilated area. If you are trying to gather the seeds, wrap paper bags around the stems and secure.
- make your bundles small so that air can circulate freely, and discourage mildew
- you can also dry by spreading the herbs in a single layer on screens or slatted trays. Just remember to give them plenty of room.
- drying times will vary depending upon climate and humidity. So, make sure to check the herbs daily as they will turn brown if left too long
- they are ready to store when they crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers; if the herb bends or is not crisp, it is not ready.
- oven drying will work if you donít have the space for air drying. Spread a single layer of herbs on a cookie sheet. Using a gas oven with a pilot light and temperatures between 85 - 90 degrees, the herbs should dry in 2-3 days. If you use an electric oven, use your lowest setting and the herbs will be dry in a matter of hours.
- herbs are ready to store when the leaves are dry and crisp - strip them from their stems and store in airtight containers.
- store out of direct sunlight and use up within 12 months.
- for the fullest flavor, try to pack the leaves full without crumbling them
2) Freezing Herbs
- freezing is another means of preserving herbs, and can be done by simply freezing sprigs in plastic bags or pack chopped herbs into ice cube trays.
- once harvested, make sure to wash them well and pat dry
- chop longer herbs, like chives, dill or lemongrass, into usable lengths
- store in airtight freezer bags or containers
- if using ice cube trays, chop your herbs finely and pack into trays and cover with water. Once frozen, transfer into freezer bags. You really donít need to thaw when you are using in cooking.
- our newest suggestion: freezing in oil for a tasty addition to any dish!
3) Incorporating Fresh Herbs
This is a method of infusing the fresh flavor or herbs into an oil or vinegar to be used in a variety of ways. The most important point in this process: USE FRESH HERBS ONLY!