8/20/09

I grow herbs in my garden as companion plants for my veggies. I use cilantro in salsa & I have used parsley before but for the most part I feel like my herbs are 'growing' to waste. I have been looking at different way to use the herbs that I grow not only in the summer but in the winter as well. I found some very useful information on storing & using herbs at herbalgardens.com. I also found some of the info here.

Many herbs will freeze or dry beautifully to extend their shelf life. We prefer to use them fresh out of the garden for best flavor but when you have so much so quickly that's not always possible. You always want to be pinching back things like basil, thyme, oregano and chives so that you get fullest production out of the season. Plants like rosemary like a good cutting now and then to keep them from getting too woody. If you haven't planned a meal around your pruning try some of these ideas to preserve your herbs:

Freezing Herbs: Wash herbs very well and gently pat dry with paper towels. Wrap a leaves or sprigs in freezer paper or place in freezer proof ziplock bags, seal and freeze. These herbs can be chopped and thawed for use in cooking, but are not suitable for garnish as they will become rather limp when thawed. Flavor is best if used within a few months.

Herb Cubes: This is a very convenient way of storing herbs. Put the clean dry herbs into the bottom of an ice cube tray and fill the compartments with water or stock. Then when you need herbs just pop them into soups, stews or sauces. You can mix and match, make combinations that you use in your recipes.

Drying Fresh Herbs: One thing to remember when using dried herbs as compared to fresh that you want to use1/3 teaspoon powdered or 1/2 teaspoon crushed for every tablespoon fresh.

The next easy preserving method is the "hanging method". Use mature herbs for this drying technique. Keeping the leaves on the stem, rinse them briefly to remove dust and insects. Pat them dry with paper towels. Tie together the bunches of herb stems using kitchen string or rubberbands and make a "hanging loop" at the end. You will need to hang your herb-bunches in a well-ventilated room until dry, which usually takes about one to two weeks. Some recommend placing them in a dark airy area with good circulation.

If you have a lot of dust, or are drying herbs with full seed heads that may drop off (like dill or coriander), you can take a brown paper bag, punch a bunch of holes into it, place the herb bunch into the bag, tie it all up and hang it. Then you won't have to worry about seeds falling on the floor or insects or dust getting into the herbs. After the drying period, they will be ready to be stored.

Drying trays are another excellent way to dry your herbs. These trays can be made at home with simple tools and materials. A square frame of 1"x1" lumber, with a bottom support of mesh or screen is all you need to make your drying trays. By attaching small square blocks on each corner of the frame, you can make as many of these trays as you need (making sure that they are of the same dimension), and then stack them.

Try this simple microwave drying method with herbs such as parsley, basil, thyme and oregano. Wash and gently pat dry herbs picked in the morning just after the dew has
dried. This is when your herbs will have the most oils in the leaves. Spread them out on a microwave safe dish in a single layer between two papertowels. Place in microwave and cook on high for about a minute, then check them. Continue cooking for about 20 seconds at a time until the herbs are just crisp.

Another quick-dry method that is popular and very simple is oven drying. First, just wash the fresh herbs quickly in cool water. This will remove any insects or dust. Be gentle with the leaves so as not to bruise them. Then, shake off the water and drain the leaves well. Set your oven to the lowest temperature. For most ovens this will be between 140 degrees and 200 degrees. Spread the herb leaves on a rack and place into the warm oven. It's best to keep the oven door open. Watch constantly for one or two minutes, since the leaves will dry out shortly. Some articles I read said that they would need to stay in the over for several hours. Then take the rack out of the oven to let cool. They are now ready to store. Place in airtight jars, out of sunlight.

Besides information on herbs, she also has a few recipes. Here is one for:
Fresh Herb Butter - In small bowl, blend 1/2 cup softened butter or margarine and 1 tsp. each chopped fresh basil, thyme and parsley (or your favorite fresh herbs).
Serve on baked potatoes, on grilled or broiled steak, tossed with hot pasta, or spread on bread and broiled.

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