I wrote to you recently about the best herbs to grow in your garden this Spring. After all that work, do you know How to Preserve Your Own Herbs? Well today I’m going to break it down for ya. There are several ways to preserve your herbs for the cold months when there is less flavor variety available in your garden. The preserved herbs will be in their best state if kept in a cool dark place for up to three months, and should be discarded once you can preserve the next year’s harvest.
How to Preserve Your Own Herbs:
The most decorative way to preserve herbs is in bundles, hanging upside down from a rack or windowsill. The longer drying time may cause a slight loss in potency, but it is worth it. You can do bouquets of the same variety or mix and match herb combinations. You will want to dry them in a cooler place than you would vegetables because they are more delicate. You can protect them from the elements by drying them in a paper bag upside down in an airy place. Once the herbs are dry enough to crumble easily in your hand, remove the leaves from the stalks and store the leaves in small, tightly sealed containers. The less air in the container, the better the shelf life of the herbs will be.
For seed herbs like fennel seed, let the plants mature until the seeds separate from the dry flower clusters easily. They will have lost their green color by then but not so much so that they drop on their own. Cut the heads off and spread them on a brown paper bag in the sun, stirring them around occasionally. Do this for several days, but take them in at night. Once they are thoroughly dry, store them in sealed mason jars in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
A dehydrator set to 95°F will work well to dry herbs, as will laying them on a tray in the open air. You could also use an oven at its lowest temperature with the door ajar, or simply leave the pilot light on. The time it takes will vary depending on the moisture content of your herbs, so check them every hour. And if you want to be really efficient about it, you can even do it in the microwave, 30 seconds at a time. The goal is warm but not too hot. Keep in mind that some of the more delicate herbs like basil and thyme will lose their potency if they are heated in an oven or microwave, so it’s best to hang or freeze them.
Herbs with tender leaves, like basil and lemon verbena, freeze and maintain their color better than others. They retain more of their fresh flavor when frozen, versus the more potent flavor when dried. Rinse the herbs and lay them to dry for several hours until they wilt. Then transfer them into containers or packages that will freeze well and store in the freezer. They are now ready to cook with, or turn into compound butters or flavored oils.
To help them maintain their color, blanch the herbs prior to freezing them: bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and prepare a bowl of ice water on the side. Hold the herbs by their stems and dip them into the boiling water for 10 seconds, being careful not to burn yourself, then drop them into the ice bath. Pat them dry on paper towels and then transfer them to freezer bags with stems on or off.
Basil is particularly prone to turning black, so the best solution is to puree the leaves in a blender with a few dashes of olive oil and then freeze it as a paste. You can then thaw it and turn it into pesto with the addition of garlic, grated parmesan, walnuts, and more olive oil, or you can use the paste for stirring into vegetables, spreading onto roasted meats, and so on.