- Thursday, September 07, 2017
A special thank you to our member, Roger Hester for writing these instructions to share with the club.
Preserving Your Garden Grown Herbs
Anyone who grows, or has grown herbs, knows that there is nothing like herbs picked fresh out of the garden. Most of us also know that even single plants usually provide more herbs than we can possibly keep up with trying to consume them fresh. Many herbs grown in your garden can be kept well after harvesting in storage. However just putting the stems in water and/or putting your herbs in the refrigerator will yield very short results. I will discuss several methods for longer term storage when you have too much yield to use your herbs fresh.
Start by harvesting to get the fullest flavor from your herbs. Harvest early in the morning, before the sun heats the plants and the volatile oils (what gives the herbs their wonderful flavors) start to dissipate. Immediately after harvesting, clean the cuttings in a sink or tub of cool water. I prefer a double sink so that I can let the rinsing sink overflow into the other sink. This allows anything that floats to overflow into the other sink. Submerging the herbs under the water for a few minutes will dislodge any insects that might have come along with your cuttings. Remove any foreign debris such as other plant's leaves sticks and mulch. This is also a good time to remove any dead sections or herbs that are less desirable. After thoroughly rinsing, there is no need to dry for most storage preparation methods. The exception is if the herbs are to be stored in oil. If dehydrating, no further preparation is needed before placing the herbs into the dehydrator. For other methods of storage the leafy parts and tender stems need to be removed from any more coarse or woody parts. Then, unless the herbs are to be stored in oil, the herbs need to be coarsely chopped to release the volatile oils. If the herbs are to be stored in oil, dry the leaves in a kitchen towel or paper towels before finely chopping.
To dehydrate freshly rinsed herbs, place the cuttings (stems and leaves) into the trays of a dehydrator. I have an old American Harvest Snackmaster, but any fairly large dehydrator will do fine. Spread whatever harvest you have on the trays. No need to be too careful about placement, as long as there are not parts sticking out of the dehydrator. The herbs will shrink enough while drying, that all will get plenty of air. The heat should be set to 95 degrees and the herbs should dried for about 24 hours. When ready, the leaves should be mostly brown, small amounts of green are ok. Turn off and uncover the dehydrator to let the herbs cool for about ten minutes. When cool, check some of the leaves with green still remaining, that the leaves will crumble when pinched. If not, dry for an hour more at a time until they pass this test. DRYING LONGER IS NOT BETTER! The longer the herbs are dried, the more flavor is lost. But if not dried enough, the herbs will mold when stored. I then get three large bowls, dumping all the dehydrated herbs into one bowl. A stem at a time, I run my fingers from the thickest part of the stem, toward the end of the stem, stripping the leaves into another bowl. I then discard the stem into the third bowl. I check the bowl with the leaves and remove any small stems and discard these too. Repeating the process until all the dehydrated herbs leaves have been stripped into the bowl. Then, promptly place the leaves into a labeled zippered plastic bag. Remove as much air as possible from the bag before sealing to keep humidity out. The less air there is in the bag, the longer the herbs will retain their flavor and aroma.
Don't have a dehydrator? Does dehydrating sound like too much work? Don't like the idea of diminished taste and aroma of your cherished herbs? There are other options!
The easiest option, both in preparation and use, is to freeze the herbs. The first option is to simply place the rinsed, chopped, leafy portions of the herbs in labeled zipper plastic bags of a convenient size. Remove all air possible before sealing, and place in the freezer until needed. A portion can be removed by just breaking or cutting the desired portion from the frozen block. Be sure to remove as much air as possible before resealing. Freezer burn will destroy the herbs.
The second freezing option is to portion the rinsed, chopped, leafy portions of the herbs into ice cube trays. Then, fill the trays with water to cover the leaves, and freeze. When frozen, remove the "herb cubes" into the container of your choice and place back into the freezer. Or, leave them in the trays, if you don't need to make more "herb cubes". How easy is that for future use?
There is another option for storing herbs, and this one actually retains the most flavor. After rinsing the leafy portions of the herbs, dry with a kitchen towel or paper towels. Then finely chop the dried herbs. Place the herbs into a bowl and stir in oil until the herbs have the consistency of pancake batter. Yes, that is a good bit of oil! In that most of the time, these herbs will be used in cooking, the use of an oil with a higher smoke point temperature such as avocado oil or coconut oil is best. Portion the herbs into smaller containers and freeze or refrigerate. I use small glass bowls with a top, refrigerate one and freeze the rest. When the refrigerated bowl is almost empty, I move a bowl from the freezer to defrost. Ever in the refrigerator, these herbs will last months, but mine get used long before that!
Pick the methods of storage most appealing to you; I use them all. Now you can enjoy your homegrown herbs all through the year. Cest si bon