Harvest and Preserve Herbs
If you've been enjoying herbs from your garden all summer, make that enjoyment last all winter by harvesting and preserving your home grown bounty. Get started before the first frost.
Air drying. This is a very simple way to preserve herbs. It works best with sturdy herbs like sage, lavender, rosemary and oregano.
Pick herbs in the morning, after dew has dried, but before the heat of the day sets in. Rinse them and pat them dry. Then, try one of these air-drying methods, all of which take about two to three weeks:
- Remove leaves from the bottom of the stem, and bundle four to six stems together loosely. Tie with a string and hang them, upside down, out of direct sunlight for two to three weeks.
- Spread the herbs out on a loosely weaved basket tray or screen and dry them flat.
- Put herbs into brown paper bags and loosely tie or fold over the top.
When the herbs crumble to the touch, you can pack the leaves into jars or seal them in plastic bags. Be careful not to crush them yet. Store them whole so that they'll keep more of their flavorful oils. Keep them from direct sunlight so they'll maintain their flavor for several months.
Sugar conserving and salt curing. This is when leaves of herbs are layered and well-covered in sugar or salt so that they retain more color and texture.
- Sugar conserving: Mint, scented geranium, lavender and fragrant basils are good candidates for sugar conserving. Pour 1/2 inch of sugar into a clean glass or nonreactive container. Place leaves across the surface. Cover completely with a 1/4- to 1/2-inch layer of sugar. Add another layer of herbs, then another layer of sugar. Repeat until all the leaves are covered (or the container is full). Make sure the top layer of sugar completely covers herbs. Seal the container. Store in the refrigerator or a cool spot in your house.
- Salt layering is done exactly the same way using sea salt or kosher salt instead. Most herbs will work well - basil, oregano, thyme, tarragon, savory, etc.
Freezing. The freezer method works well great with tender herbs such as chives, basil, parsley, cilantro and tarragon.
- Start with fresh leaves, whole or minced. Spread them on a cookie sheet so that they are not touching. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer.
- Once they're frozen, scrape the herbs into a labeled bag or small lidded container, and put it the freezer. This method keeps the herbs separate and easy to use straight from the freezer.
- You can also try the ice cube method. Chop herbs quite fine. Fill each section of an ice cube tray halfway with herbs and a small amount of water. Freeze. Remove from freezer and add water to completely cover the herb. Freeze again. Put herb cubes into a plastic bag. Use directly from the freezer in soups, stews, grain dishes or even hot drinks.
Herbed butters. Mix chopped herbs into softened butter. Roll into logs, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and freeze for up to six months. Slice off rounds of these great tasting compound butters as needed.