by Ken Lain, the mountain gardener
If you have herbs in your garden, you know that many are peaking. Although I’ve been harvesting like mad, quantities are exceeding consumption at the Lain casa, so it’s time to start preserving the overflow for later use. There are several ways to preserve culinary herbs; the easiest method is to dry them. Not only is air-drying the easiest, quickest and least expensive way to dry fresh herbs, but slow drying doesn’t deplete the herbs of their essential oils and flavors. This process works best for herbs with low moisture contents like bay, dill, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, summer savory, and thyme. Tasty stuff and less costly than supermarket products!
- Cut only healthy branches from plants.
Remove dry or spotted leaves.
If necessary, rinse with cool water and pat dry with paper towels.
Remove lower leaves from the bottom inch of each branch.
- Gather together 4-6 branches and, using string or rubber bands, tie them into a loose bunch.
Punch several holes in a paper bag and label it with the name of the herb.
Place the herb bundle upside down in the bag.
The bundle of herbs should not be crowded or cramped.
Tie together the exposed stems of the herbs and the open end of the bag.
Hang the bag away from direct sunlight in a warm, airy room like a garage or mudroom.
- In two weeks check how drying is progressing.
Keep checking weekly until herbs are dry and ready for use.
Dried herbs retain more of their flavors when stored whole in airtight containers.
Frozen Leaf Method
- Harvest the freshest, healthiest leaves.
- Spread the individual leaves on a small tray or cookie sheet. Freezing the individual leaves flat and separated will prevent them from freezing together into an unwieldy brick.
- Put the tray of leaves into the freezer.
- When the leaves have frozen solid, gently place them in airtight containers, and return them to the freezer. Very flavorful additions to that soup pot on a wintry day!
Ice Cube Method
- Stuff 2-3 individual leaves or a spoonful of chopped herbs into each cavity of ice cube trays.
- Fill the trays half full with water. Try to submerge the leaves in the water. (They will tend to float, but we’ll fix that with the next step.) Put the half-filled trays into the freezer.
- Once the cubes are frozen, finish filling the trays with water. The leaves will no longer be able to float and can be completely surrounded with water. Now place the tray back into the freezer to freeze the cubes until solid.
- When the ice cubes are solidly formed, remove them from the trays and store them in zip-closing freezer bags.
- When ready to use, toss the whole ice cube into the dish you’re cooking. Yum!
October is an excellent month to plant new herbs like rosemary, thyme, and lavender. Planting in late summer and fall produces a hardier plant for more production next season. Most of Watters herb selection this month are also evergreen . . .Yea! Plant now, enjoy the winter green that follows and harvest all winter long. Not a bad combination. Visit us for the entire herbal selection.
Until next time, I’ll be helping locals with fresh herbs here at Watters Garden Center.