There is no arguing that fresh herbs are the best things to use for your best dishes. Summertime gives us the opportunity to grow all of our favorite herbs in abundance. So, how do you save these flavors of summer for use in the fall, winter and beyond? Buying fresh herbs at the supermarket is expensive and makes most of us cringe at the thought since it was free to us all summer long after buying seeds or plants.
Unless you grow herbs indoors all year, to keep the fresh flavor, generally, there are only two choices. Freezing or drying. Most of us buy dried herbs from the spice aisle but how long have they been sitting in those jars? Drying your own, you’ll know exactly how old they are and they will give you more flavor than their store bought counterparts. Of course, having the alternative of being able to buy them at the store is better than not having them at all.
The best and most flavorful herbs to consider keeping are the ones with the most robust flavors such as oregano, mint, basil, thyme and rosemary.
Ideally, having a dehydrating machine to dry your herbs would be easiest. However drying herbs without one is not difficult. To dry herbs, simply harvest and tie together and hang them upside down in a cool dark place such a closet, basement or under a shady tree outside. Keep the bunches small so the drying time isn’t too lengthy or your harvest will mold rather than dry. Make sure each bunch has plenty of air to pass through all of it. When leaves are easily crumbled, they can be stored in an airtight jar. Saving empty herb and spice jars is an excellent way to store these.
Another alternative to hanging in bunches is to lay individual leaves, such as sage, between paper towels for drying in layers. Don’t pile these too high or make them too heavy or the mold will be an issue here as well.
Freezing herbs takes even less time and less space than drying. Instead of waiting for the herbs to dry before being able to use them, freezing them allows you to be able to use them sooner since the time to pick, bundle, dry, crumble and store is eliminated.
There are two ways to freeze herbs. One way is to incorporate oil such as olive oil. Place herbs in a food processor or blender with just enough oil to form a paste. Once the desired consistency is reached, pour into ice cube trays to freeze. After 24 hours, pop the ice cubes out of the try and place into plastic freezer bags and label them. You’ll be able to use these ice cubes in soups, stews and sauces over the winter and they will maintain their fresh taste. Already oiled, you have killed two birds with one stone so to speak. You’ll be able to use less oil in your cooking later.
The other freezing method is blanching while freezing. Chop herbs if desired or leave them whole. Pack ice cube trays with the herbs. Pour hot water into the ice tray and then put in the freezer. The hot water acts as blanching method keeping the pretty green color. Once frozen, pop them out of the ice tray and put into freezer bags and label them.
No matter what method you choose, you are using your harvest to it’s most potential while at the same time saving money by not having to buy the expensive jars of herbs in the winter. It’s fresher, it tastes better and takes so little effort, you may even want to double the amount of herbs you plant next season.