Hopefully you are enjoying fresh herbs from your garden in all of your recipes but did you know that you can have fresh tasting herbs all year round? Think of how your favorite soups and hardy winter dishes could be enhanced with herbs that taste like they were just freshly picked. Now, as you may remember we’ve shared information about how you can grow herbs indoors all year round but if you don’t have the indoor growing conditions than harvesting and preserving your herbs now is the next best thing.
Perhaps the easiest way to preserve herbs for the coming winter is to simply freeze them. As far back as I can remember we’ve had chopped chives, basil leaves and parsley stored in Ziploc freezer bags. You simply harvest the herbs, rinse them in cool water to remove dirt and any possible insects that may have come in with your plants pat them dry with a paper towel and they are ready for freezing. One tip I can give you is to not chop the basil leaves at this time but to freeze them whole as this locks in the flavor.
Another way to freeze herbs is in ice cube trays. You can combine the approximately 2 cups of herbs with 1/3 a cup of olive oil until the mixture is smooth and almost like a paste. You then put the paste in tray just like you would put water in the tray to make ice cubes. The last step is to seal the tray in plastic wrap to preserve the flavor and then put in the freezer. When you want to use the herbs you just pop an “herb cube” from the tray and put it in your dish and let it melt in. Herbs that are good candidates for this include basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, rosemary and sage.
While freezing herbs is easy drying herbs is also another viable way to preserve them for future use. There are several ways to effectively dry herbs. One way is to take leaves that have been cleaned and put them on a paper towel in an area that they will get good air circulation so they don’t get moldy. Leave them on the paper towel until they will crumble when you touch them. They can then be stored in plastic storage bags or jars.
A second way to dry herbs is to use your microwave. This may take some trial and error but you place the herbs on a paper towel making sure they are spread out on the towel and not touching each other. Every microwave is probably a little different but I used a 1,000 watt microwave on high power for 40 seconds and it worked like a charm. I would suggest you start out in 10 second intervals to be sure they are not cooking. Once they are dry you should take them out of the microwave but let them sit out on the paper towel to allow any moisture that might remain to evaporate. You can then crumble them into a container to store them for future use or put them right into whatever you are cooking.
Still another way to dry herbs is to bundle 4 to 6 branches of the herb you are drying make sure the leaves are still left on the stem. Rubber band the branches together and then take a paper bag which you have cut some holes in to allow for air circulation and suspend the branches inside the bag. You then want to take the bag and hang it upside down in a warm room with good air circulation. You’ll want to check the bag every few days to make sure the herbs aren’t getting moldy and in 2 to 4 weeks they should be dried and ready for storage.
Finally, I have a few tips for you to make sure you have the greatest chance of success with harvesting herbs:
- Make sure you harvest the herbs before the plants start to flower. This ensures that the herbs will be at their peak flavor.
- Harvest the herbs in mid-morning after the dew is dry but before they start to wilt in the sun. This helps to ensure the herbs will be in their optimal condition for drying.
- Dried herbs actually have a more intense flavor so if a recipe would call for a tablespoon of fresh herbs you can use a teaspoon of dried herbs.
It is best to use your dried herbs within a year which, after all, is just as well as you’ll want to grow new herbs in the spring anyway! Photo from: © Sunny Forest - Fotolia.com
For more information on growing your own herbs, sign up for our FREE newsletter and get our Herb Gardening Guide. Click here