It is getting to that time of the year again. My vegetable gardening projects are slowing down and I have to start thinking about the first frost. It is also the time to start thinking about preserving herbs that seem to be in abundant supply right now.
I have a huge group of fresh herbs in tubs. I love to cook and the fresh herbs just give so much more flavor to my favorite recipes. Some of them are annuals, which will die when it freezes, and some are perennials which will come back next year. But most will not actively grow through the cold winter.
But now it is the end of the season and the cold will soon kill my annual herbs and make my perennials go dormant. So what can I do to make sure that I have the use of the herbs for the next few months?
Luckily, there are several options for me to choose from for preserving herbs – drying, freezing, preparing them for recipe ingredients and taking cuttings are all good options.
Tips for Preserving Herbs.
Before you start preserving herbs, you have to harvest them. Use strong kitchen shears to snip the herbs. For perennials, cut them at the base of the plant. Annuals can be pulled right out of the pot and the leaves cut off. Throw the roots and woody parts on the compost pile. Be sure to harvest before your first frost, or Mother Nature will do the drying part for you!
Once you have harvested the herbs, wash them carefully. Pat them dry with a paper towel or allow them to air dry.
Before you start to think about ways to preserve them, take some cuttings to root. My herbs grow really large and are too big to bring indoors. But. most herbs will root from stem cuttings. Just strip off some of the lower leaves and place the stems in water and allow roots to form and then pot them up.
Another way is to use rooting powder on the cut of the stem, remove the lower leaves and plant in a pot of seed starting mix.
The herbs will grow as indoor plants over the winter months and you will have herbs to place outdoors when the spring arrives next year. See more ideas for getting plants for free in this article. Basil is a great one to try, since it roots easily and is an annual, so it will die over the winter anyway.
The most common method of preserving herbs is to dry them. The benefit of making your own dried herbs is that you know that they are really fresh. Drying herbs also has the benefit of not depleting the herbs of their natural oils.
There are two basic methods of drying herbs: air drying and oven drying. There are also special herb drying racks that you can purchase to allow you to dry herbs over screens on a flat surface. You can even make your own herb drying rack with old picture frames, screens and pieces of chain. To dry herbs, follow these steps.
Air drying herbs
1.Cut them early in the day, remove diseased leaves, and make sure they are dry.
2.Remove the lowest leaves, tie them into a bundle and hang them upside down.
3.You can also put the herbs into brown paper bags and hang the bag upside down in a dry, airy room. This makes sure that there is no mess belong the herbs as they dry. Couldn’t be easier!
Oven drying herbs
Air drying is the most common method of drying herbs, since it does not use any energy and has a nostalgic feel to the process. But you can also use the oven to dry herbs, as well. This is a good way to go if you live in a humid environment where air drying is a challenge. To do this, spread the cleaned herbs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Turn the oven on very low to 150 º and leave the door slightly ajar. Check the herbs often and remove when they start to look dried and crumbled. The process can take up to four hours but can also be done as soon as one hour depending on the herb. Store in air tight glass containers for up to a year.
Preserving herbs to use as recipe ingredients
Pesto is super easy to make and can be used as a spread on crostini for an easy appetizer, or can be used on pasta for a change from a normal marinara sauce.
Just place 1 cup of fresh basil with 3 cloves of garlic,.few tablespoons of pine nuts and about 1/3 cup of Parmesan cheese into a food processor. Add salt and pepper to taste and drizzle in 1/3 cup of olive oil while the motor is running.
Pesto can be stores in the fridge for a week, but this time of the year, I make extra and freeze it in silicone ice cube trays. Once it is frozen, I remove the cubes and place in plastic bags and freeze it for up to a year.
Since basil is an annual, and won’t come back next year, or grow in the cold months, this is the perfect way to enjoy it all year long.
Herb vinegar can be used in sauces and marinades in much the same way that normal vinegar can. It’s quite easy to make and is a great way to use the end of season herbs so that you don’t have to waste them.
This DIY Italian herb vinegar uses basil, oregano and thyme for flavoring. Herb vinegar also makes a great home made Christmas gift.
Making a herb butter is sort of like making garlic butter for later use. Just chop up the herbs and mix one part herb with two parts softened butter, shape into a small long and freeze. You can cut the log into pieces to have individual sized portions for later use.
This works with most any kind of herb. Just lay cut herbs on a baking sheet. Freeze them overnight and put into a freezer in a sealed container. They will keep for several months before the start looking “tired.” For longer storage try freezing them in oil or water:
Another method is to freeze them using oil.
1. Chop them well. You can use single groups of herbs or mixed groups.
2. Place them into silicone ice cube trays
3. Place extra virgin olive oil in the tray. (you can also use plain water or melted butter) Use 1/4 herb to 3/4 moisture in the tray cell.
4. Cover with plastic and freeze.
5. Remove the frozen cubes and store in small zip lock bags to keep frozen. Be sure to label the bag so you know what it is later.
6. When it is time to cook, take out a labeled herb and oil cube and toss it in the frying pan to cook with your vegetables and meat for fresh flavoring. See the best herbs for kitchen gardens here.
There are some herbs which use the seeds as well as the leaves in cooking. Dill, coriander and fennel are some popular herbs that have seeds that can be used as seeds in cooking.
To save the seeds, allow the plant to flower so that it will form a seed head. When the seed heads start to get brown and dry it, collect them before the plant drops them. Cover the head in a brown paper bag and then hang it upside down.
Shake the bag from time to time to dislodge the seeds. Once you have collected the seeds, store them in glass jars in a dark location such as your pantry.
These 8 ways to use up the herbs will allow you to enjoy your fresh herbs for the cold months to come, no matter the weather. There is no substitute for fresh herbs in cooking. Dried just won’t do.
What tips do you have for preserving herbs? Please leave your comments below.
For tips on growing herbs, see these articles:
|Growing Basil||Growing Oregano||Best Herbs for Kitchen Gardens|
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