One of the most beneficial reasons to grow your own herbs is that you can grow organic. If you are planning on using an indoor herb garden kit or you grow herbs in your garden, you hopefully planted organic herb seeds. Now, you have a bumper crop. You can’t possibly use it all before the cold weather hits. Rather than add it to your compost heap, how about preserving your herbs for winter use? There are lots of ways to preserve herbs and here are some of the most popular.
Drying Fresh Herbs
This method of preserving herbs has been around forever. Simply gather a small bouquet of herbs and tie them together at the stem with kitchen string. The herbs must be dry when you hang them, so if you felt they needed to be washed, make sure you have dried all the water from the plants. Any moisture will encourage mold growth and ruin your herbs.
Hang your herbs upside down in a cool, dry, dark place until the leaves are crumbly to the touch. If you don’t have a dark room, hang a paper bag over the herbs and add a few openings to allow good air circulation. When the herb is totally dry, remove the leaves from the woody stems and place the dried herbs in a jar with a tight-fitting lid or a sealable bag with the air squeezed out.
If you live where there is high humidity, hanging to dry may not work. In this case, you may want to use your oven. To do this, simply prepare the herbs for drying by laying them in a single layer on a cookie sheet that has been lined with parchment paper. Place them in the oven set at the lowest temperature–no higher than 200 degrees. Keep them in the oven until the leaves are crumbly. This could take an hour or even several hours depending on what type of herb you are drying. When the herbs are totally dry, place in sealable bags or sealed jars.
The dehydrator is the final option for drying herbs. If you have a dehydrator, it is the most efficient and foolproof way to dry your herbs. Prepare the herbs as above and place on the trays of the dehydrator. When dried, remove the woody stems and store in sealed jars or sealable bags.
The microwave is another way of drying herbs–with parsley being the best candidate. Take your fresh parsley and remove any thicker stems. Gather the remaining leaves into a tight bundle and snip into pieces with your kitchen shears. Spread the parsley on a paper towel or a microwave safe dish. Microwave them for about one minute and check the leaves. If they are still soft, add another minute. If you have a thicker layer of parsley, you may need to shake it up to get all of the parsley to dry. Remove your parsley from the microwave when totally dry and store in jars or sealable bags. The parsley stays nice and green when dried in the microwave, and it is fast and easy.
Freezing Your Fresh Herbs
Herbs can be frozen with a few extra steps.
- The herbs will need to be blanched. If you skip this step, the herbs will turn an ugly brown in the freezer. To blanch, bring a pot of water to a boil. Dip your herbs into the water for about one minute. Remove them and immediately immerse the herbs in ice water to stop the cooking. Blot them dry.
- Place the blanched herbs in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Place in the freezer for about one hour or until completely frozen.
- Transfer your frozen herbs into sealable freezer bags and return them to the freezer. When ready to use, just cut off the amount needed and add it to the food you are cooking.
Make a Pesto with Fresh Herbs
This method works particularly well for extra basil. Make your favorite recipe for basil pesto and freeze it in an ice cube tray. When totally frozen, remove the pesto cubes and place them in a sealable freezer bag. When you’re ready to eat, simply remove the amount you need throughout the winter.
Make Fresh Herb Vinegars
To get started, prepare pint-sized jars by boiling them in water for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and add canning jar lids. This will sterilize the jars. Leave them in the water until ready to use.
From there, bring your vinegar to a boil. Use a good white or champagne vinegar. Then, rinse the herbs well in fresh water. Remove the jars from the hot water and put the herbs in each jar. Use plenty to give your vinegar the best flavor. Don’t be afraid to mix your herbs for your own unique flavors.
Once your jars are full, pour the boiling vinegar over the herbs, allowing about ¼-inch of space on top. Screw the lids on tightly. Store your jars in a cool dark space for three to four weeks. When you’re ready to use your herbs, strain the vinegar through cheesecloth to remove any sediment from the herbs. You may have to strain more than once. The vinegar should be clear. Pour vinegar into clean jars or bottles. You may decorate your vinegar with a few sprigs of herbs if desired.
Hopefully these ideas will help you to preserve all the organic herbal goodness to use throughout the year. Enjoy!