Herbs have got to be among a gardener’s favourite plants to grow as the culinary rewards are stupendous. While yours may be dwindling out or already gone, many gardeners in warmer parts of the country are still enjoying a wonderful bounty of basil, oregano, mint, thyme, parsley, cilantro and more! If you planted your herbs in a pot instead of a soil bed, you may have even brought them indoors to extend their life and production.
And oh, what a bounty. Pasta sauces taste better made with fresh oregano and basil, as do Caprese salads and pizzas. And how about a batch of pesto made with fresh basil livening up a dish of linguini. Tiny new potatoes garnished with pungent curly or flat leaf parsley and a little butter make mouths water. Add fresh fern-like dill to a summertime potato salad to ratchet the flavour up a notch. Fresh mint dressing up baby carrots or macerated in a lively Mojito cocktail is exquisite. Thai basil and cilantro are a must in any Asian dish and fresh sage, rosemary and thyme are fundamental to a tasty chicken or pork dish. And for the steak lover out there, a Bearnaise sauce made with fresh tarragon is a must.
But you ask, how can I conserve this wonderful bounty of herbs I’ve grown so that I can enjoy the fruits of my summer labour all through the winter months? Well, we have four options you can explore in order to dry or preserve your herbs for future use.
When & How To Harvest Your Herbs
If you’re ready to harvest some of your herbs, it’s best to do it in the early morning before the sun is too hot, thus retaining a maximum level of flavour and oils in the case of herbs like lavender or rosemary. Don’t pick them when they’re wet to avoid rotting before you can get them processed. Try to clip sections of the herb at the intersection of two stems. A good source of information about harvesting herbs (and seeds such as coriander and dill) and getting them ready to be preserved is to be found here.
The following methods are the most common ways to ensure your herbs will be preserved properly for use later in the year. It’s up to you to decide which method(s) suit you best.
Carefully pick the leaves from the chosen herb plant and place them lightly into ice cube trays and cover them with water. Next, add a small amount of olive oil which should stop the leaves turning black. Pop the trays into your freezer. Once solid, empty into labelled freezer bags and thaw when needed or drop into soups and stews etc. This method is best for dill, coriander, chervil and tarragon.
You can air dry your herbs in about four to eight days and they’ll be good for up to 12 months if stored properly. Simply tie individual bunches of herbs together, for example oregano, sage and basil and hang them upside down in a cool, dark space. Once they’re completely dry, destem and crush the leaves up. Store them in tightly sealed labelled glass jars (Mason jars are ideal) out of the light.
If you’re really into drying a lot of herbs, invest in an herb dehydrator to save time and get excellent results quickly. Other benefits of using a dehydrator are better preservation of your herb’s aroma and flavour as well as any medicinal qualities it may have. Store results as per above.
Not recommended if you want your herbs to last for a long time, but ideal for storing fresh herbs for a week or two. Place your herbs upright in a glass jar or bottle filled with water or wrap them in damp paper towels in a sealed container.
Fun fact: Mint, if stored with the stems in water, will root and flourish for months. Mine often lasts the whole winter when placed in a sunny window and can then be repotted in the garden the following year.
4. Processing (Transforming)
A nifty idea which I have found to be really yummy and also does a good job of retaining an herb’s flavour is to transform certain ones into an herbed butter which is easily stored in the refrigerator or freezer. Here’s a link to the recipes I use for a variety of homemade herb butters or compounds.
And that my friends, is how you too can enjoy the fresh taste of your own garden grown herbs (or store bought) well after the summer growing season ends. Enjoy!