Enhance your recipes with fresh, flavorful ... HERBS
By Pam Baytos
OSU master gardener volunteer
Herbs have been growing for months now. They are fresh, flavorful and ready for your favorite recipes. Now that we have more than we can use, it’s time to save them for the winter months.
There are different techniques for harvesting and preserving your herbs. How you harvest them depends on the herb and what you plan to do with them. Gather herbs on a dry sunny day after the dew has dried. To store fresh herbs, place bouquets into jars filled with 1-2 inches of water, cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate. For small sprigs, wrap in paper towels sealed in plastic bags and place in the crisper drawer. Both options last two weeks. Make sure leaves are free of dew or drops, otherwise they will turn brown. Herbs like cilantro and rosemary can be put into a paper bag placed in the refrigerator for one month; the leaves will be green, but dried.
Freezing is another option. Harvest in their peak and wash them gently, then pat them dry. Chop herbs until the pieces are the right size to add to soups or other recipes. Pack them into freezer bags, squeezing out the air until you have a flat layer of herbs, then seal. Label the bags, since most frozen herbs look alike. When you’re ready to use them, break off a corner or as much as you need and return to the freezer. You can puree fresh herbs with water or oil. Pour the puree into freezer bags or into ice cube trays, moving into bags when frozen solid. Frozen basil retains the best quality when pureed in olive oil. Just add in cheese, pine nuts and garlic for pesto.
Blanching is another option. These herbs stay greener, but flavor and aroma will be reduced. Basil even turns black. Place leaves in strainer and pour boiling water over for one second. Then, lay on paper towels and let cool before freezing. Herbal vinegars are another great way to preserve and use your herbs.
It’s best to dry herbs in a dark place with good ventilation. Barns and sheds are good as well as the top of refrigerator on a tray, or even screens placed in your car while parked in shade. When drying herb seeds, snip off seed heads when they turn brown. Blanch them to destroy insects that can hide inside. Spread to dry, then store in airtight containers. For large batches of dried leaves cut the stems and rubber band bunches onto a wire hanger. Have a separate hanger for each herb or cultivar to make organization easy. Label each as many will look alike when they dry. Herbs with short stems and leaves are difficult to bunch. The best method is to snip off foliage and spread it on a screen in a single layer. Loose blossoms and flower petals can also be dried on screens. If the herbs are fine, spread a paper towel on the screen first. Remember to stir the herbs once a day for even drying. This takes 7-10 days.
When your herbs have dried thoroughly, it’s time to store. If you’re saving herbs for culinary use, crush them. Leaves and blossoms saved for tea can be left whole. Store dried herb foliage, blossoms or seeds in airtight containers away from bright light. Your herbs will store best in glass jars with tight lids. You can also pack dried material into resealable plastic bags, squeezing out the air before you seal. Ideally herbs should be kept cool and dry.
Be sure to practice good food safety when preserving herbs.
For information about herbal vinegars, visit go.osu.edu/herbalvinegar.
For other herb preservation tips, visit go.osu.edu/goodherbs.