There are few things more pleasurable in life than being able to cook with fresh herbs that you just picked off the plant. They make your food taste better and blow away the herbs and spices you'd find at the local grocery store. However, there will be times when you may notice that you’re harvesting more herbs than you can cook with at a single time. This can provide a perfect opportunity to pass on the joys of gardening to your friends, family, and neighbors, but even then, you might still have way more herbs than you know what to do with. Luckily, there are a number of ways that you can preserve those herbs so that you can continue to use them in your cooking for months to come.
There are a few ways to freeze your herbs for later use.
Ice Cube Trays
Freezing is an easy and popular way to preserve herbs. Once you’ve harvested them and removed their bad sections, you’ll want to rinse them in cold water quickly to get the dirt off of them. Shake them gently to remove any excess water, and chop them up. Then, take an ice tray and put a decent amount of herbs into each space. Add water and put it in the freezer. Later on, you can take them out of the tray and store them in a freezer bag or another resealable container.
Alternatively, you can freeze your herbs after laying them out on a cookie sheet. You can then put the frozen herbs into a plastic bag to keep in their flavor. This method can make things easier when you need specific amounts of an herb for cooking.
This method is very popular, especially if you already have an idea of what you'll want to use your herbs for in the future. Some people use oils rather than water to freeze their herbs. Olive oil is a particularly popular choice. Using oil will help to reduce freezer burn and stop some of the browning that can occur on herbs after being frozen in water. Plus, it can make the perfect recipe starter. There are some great recipes online that call for different combinations of herbs and oils.
There are a few different ways to dry your herbs. Be sure to remove any damaged or dead leaves before starting. No matter which method you use, it’s also important not to wet the herbs down if they have already been cleaned, as it can be helpful to start the drying process without adding any water. If they are dirty, you’ll just want to lightly rinse them. Gently shake the herbs afterward and spread them out on a clean dishcloth or paper towel to allow any remaining water to evaporate.
To dry your herbs, you might consider bundling them up into small groups and tying them together with string or twine. Hang the bundles upside down in a carefully selected area. You need a place that's dry, warm, and has good airflow while being blocked off from direct sunlight. This is because the sun can cause your herbs to lose their flavor and become discolored. Some good hanging spots include pantries, closets, and attics. Still, you’ll want to ensure that your bundles aren't too close together to allow for air circulation. If your herbs have seeds, you’ll want to place the bundles you make into paper bags, cutting small holes in them to suspend them.
If there’s nowhere in your home to safely hang your herbs, you can try drying them using window screens. Spread your herbs out on a window screen, then suspend the screen over two chairs or another surface that allows for air to circulate all around. It can also help to turn the leaves over every so often to speed up the drying process.
Your oven is an even better way to speed up the drying process. You’ll want to set it to the lowest heat setting and spread out your herbs on cookie sheets. Once they're inside, check on the herbs often. You’ll want them to reach a point where they crumble easily upon being touched. Separate the stems from the leaves and put them in sealed jars or other air-tight containers. To protect their flavor, try not to crush too many leaves.
Place your herbs on a paper towel, then put another paper towel on top of them. Heat them in the microwave for a minute or two on high. Let the leaves cool down. If you find that the leaves aren’t brittle yet, you’ll want to reheat them for 30 seconds at a time until they crumble easily.
Home food dehydrators are another great option for drying herbs. You’ll want to follow the directions on your specific dehydrator, as the process may differ from machine to machine.
Preserving your herbs the right way by following these directions will ensure that you’re not wasting your harvest. Although eating your herbs fresh will give you the best flavor, storing them correctly will allow you to keep enjoying them as the growing season ends. They can be a little like a ray of summer in the coldest months of winter.