One of many blessings your yard and garden can provide is a fresh selection of herbs available throughout the summer season. But as the weather changes, herbs follow the pattern of many other plants by either dying off for the year or moving into a dormant state, depending on whether they are annuals or perennials. But there’s no need to let all those beautiful herbs go to waste. Instead, consider the many ways they can continue to serve you after the long hot days of summer have transformed into cool evenings and brisk mornings.
Freezing herbs is easy and allows you to use them during the harsh winter months when fresh herbs become difficult to find and expensive to purchase. There are several ways to freeze herbs, with different end uses in mind. The basic procedure is to simply lay herbs out on a sheet and place the entire sheet into the freezer. Once frozen, move the herbs to a plastic freezer bag, freezer container, or glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Another option is to mix the herbs with oil at a ratio of ⅓ cup oil per 2 cups of herbs. Then pack the mixture into ice trays and freeze. Once frozen, move the cubes to another storage container. These herb cubes are great for pastas and soups during the winter. Still another option is to create cocktail ice cubes, such as lemonade and mint leaves or pureed strawberry and basil leaves. These add a nice flavor to drinks during the off season.
Drying herbs is an age-old practice, and for good reason since it allows you to keep the quality flavors of the herbs for long term use. Hang your herbs in loose bundles for several days to a few weeks. The one thing to really watch is that your herbs are completely dry. If they aren’t they will mold. Once dry, crumble the leaves and store in herb jars. This works well for most common herbs including parsley, mint, cilantro, marjoram, oregano, etc.
Homemakers have used herb sachets for hundreds of years. They are great for keeping the musty funk out of drawers and also drive away insects and rodents. To make them, create squares out of fabric or purchase ready-made mesh bags. Stuff your sachet with your favorite dried herbs and close up the opening. You can also tie the end with a rope, ribbon or cord instead of stitching it shut. If you have a favorite essential oil you can add it to the mix as well.
There is no need to purchase loose leaf tea when you have a garden full of herbs waiting to steep up to the task. To create your own, dry your herbs and then play around with combinations that you love. Dried herbs can be used for ice tea or hot tea. Common choices include mint, chamomile, dandelion leaves, rose petals, and hibiscus, but there truly are endless options.
Vinegar is another easily infused ingredient that can give an extra boost of flavor to dressing, sauces, and marinades. The process is the same as it is for oils with the obvious exception of filling the jar with vinegar rather than oil. You can store your homemade herb-infused vinegar in the refrigerator for up to six months, but honestly it's doubtful that it will be around that long!
Herb-infused oils add a wonderful flavor to everything from meat to vegetables to bread. You can also use the oils in lotions, soaps, and lip balm for a therapeutic effect and lovely scent. Massage oils are an option too. Anything that you use oil for is better when it is herb infused! To create your own herb-infused oils, choose a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Make sure it is clean and completely dry. Stuff your herbs into the jar and then fill it with your choice of oil. Allow the mixture to steep in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks, checking it every few days. Once it has the flavor you are looking for, strain the mixture through a cheesecloth. Label your oil and store for up to one year.
Using the same technique as the oils and vinegars, you can infuse your favorite alcohol too. Love a lavender lemon drop? Make your own lavender vodka by leaving your lavender to soak. Add some lemon rind to bump up the flavor too. Play with combinations of herbs and fruits that appeal to your palette. Check the flavor of your mixtures often and strain out the herbs and fruits when it reaches the peak taste.
Herbs are lovely to enjoy in their fresh form during the growing months, but just because they begin to take a winter’s nap doesn’t mean you should stop enjoying your harvest! By drying, freezing, and incorporating your herbs into household foods and other goods, you’ll get the most life out of your plants.