Gardening this year consists of containers on my patio and the raised beds at the community garden. A big majority of the plantings in them are herbs, and it appears they like the current weather patterns we are experiencing. My cup is overflowing as they say.
Most herbs like full sun conditions with moist but well-drained soils. Some, like lavender and rosemary, tolerate dry conditions and are also used in the garden for ornamentation rather than for culinary purposes. There are spreading herbs like sage and mounding herbs like chives. Many can be grown in containers which is perfect for patios, balconies, and kitchen windowsills.
But what does one do with all these herbs once you have them? I certainly do not cook enough to use all of them, and I’ve tried to give some away with only minimal success. I guess it will come to storing, drying, or preserving them for later use. If you are in the same boat as me, here are a few ways to harvest your herb crop for future use in recipes, sachets, or aromatic decorations.
Did you know you could freeze herbs? A simple way to freeze them for use later is to first wash them well and pat dry. Next, chop them well or use a food processor to make pieces that are usable for your cooking needs. Place them in freezer bags and push out as much air as possible while making a flat layer. Label the bag and place in freezer.
When making your next dish, simply break off as needed and drop in your soup, stew, etc. Alternatively, you can puree your herbs with water or olive oil, and freeze them in ice cube trays. Some herbs that work well for this are dill, fennel, mint, parsley, and tarragon. (My tarragon went crazy this year, so I will freeze some for sure—tarragon goes especially well with egg and chicken dishes.)
The most common method of storing herbs is drying them. Bunch same species of herbs together in one-inch bunches tied with string, ribbon, or even rubber bands. Hang them in dark, dry, and well-ventilated areas. If drying leaves or petals, place in single layer on baking sheets and use the oven on a very low setting or use a food dehydrator.
Other methods of preserving herbs include salting, making herbal vinegars or oils, and even making herbal jellies. When salting, wash and pat dry the herbs. Pack in jars using alternate layers of kosher salt and herbs (starting and ending with salt.) Let sit in a cool, dry place. Pick the leaves out to use in cooking, and then use the flavored salt for seasoning.
Making an herbal vinegar or oil is quite easy and a very tasty addition to your pantry. Simply place one to two cups of herbs in a sterilized jar. Add four cups vinegar (5 percent acidity), leaving about one inch of space at the top. Let the herbs steep from three to six weeks, then strain and use in your favorite recipes. If making an herbal oil, heat one cup oil until just warm and pour into sterilized jars that have been packed with one-quarter cup fresh herbs. Allow to cool, cover tightly, and store in refrigerator.
Herbal jellies are great too, especially in conjunction with cheeses and as glazes for meats. You are only limited by your imagination. Search the internet for recipes and methods. I find Pinterest to be invaluable for my kitchen endeavors.
Herbs are a wonderful addition to the garden, and with a little work they can be enjoyed well after the summer has faded and the leaves have fallen to the ground. Make sure to choose the right plants for your conditions and you’ll have a bountiful harvest to enjoy all year long.
Stay well, and let’s garden together. ▼
Eric W. Wahl is a landscape architect, artist, and President of the Delaware Native Plant Society