You can preserve herbs that you have grown yourself or that you have bought from a market or grocery store. When I buy herbs I never seem to be able to use the whole amount, so it is useful to be able to preserve the unused portion for later.Harvesting Herbs for Preservation:
For the highest concentration of essential oils, herbs should be harvested after the flower buds appear, but before they open. Pick them in the early morning after the dew has evaporated, but before the sun gets hot.Fresh Cut Herbs For Fresh Use Later:
Cut long stems from your herb plant as you would a bouquet of flowers and remove the leaves from the bottom third of the stem. Place your herb bouquet in a glass of water, taking care not to let any leaves fall below the surface of the water. Place a plastic bag loosely over the top and store in the refrigerator for up to five days.Preserving Herbs by Drying:Drying is the most common way to preserve herbs. There are several ways to dry herbs.
Preserving Herbs by Freezing:
- Herbs can easily be air-dried by hanging them in small bunches. If the herbs are not clean, rinse them in water and lay them out to dry until the surface moisture evaportates. Remove any dead or damaged foliage and tie the stems into small bundles with twine or string and hang them upside down in a warm, dry place. Make the bundles small and loose bundles to allow for good air circulation.
- Light and moisture can damage the herbs, so it is best to dry them indoors in a dark area where it is warm (the ideal temperature for drying herbs is between 80 and 90 degrees) and there is good air circulation. An attic or other storage area is often a good choice.
- An alternative to hanging herbs to dry in bunches is to spread the herbs in a single layer on a screen or breathable fabric. You may wish to cover them with a single layer of cheesecloth to keep the dust and debris off.
- To air dry herbs with seeds, tie the herbs in small bundles and suspend inside a paper bag with holes punched in the sides. Suspend the bag in a dark area with good air circulation. Collect the seeds when they are dry, and store in light-proof containers.
- Microwave drying is a quick way to dry small amounts of herbs. Lay a single layer of clean, dry leaves between dry paper towels and place them in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes on high power. Drying will vary with the moisture content of the herb and the wattage of the microwave oven. Let the leaves cool. If they are not brittle, reheat for 30 seconds and check again. Repeat as needed. Thick leaved herbs may need to be air dried for several days before microwaving.
- You can also dry herbs in a conventional oven. Spread the herbs on a cookie sheet and dry at the lowest temperature setting until they are completely dry.
- If you have a food dehydrator, you can use that for drying herbs: follow the manufacturer's directions for how to dry herbs.
- Herbs are sufficiently dry when they are brittle and crumble easily. When the leaves are dry, separate them from their stems and package the leaves in rigid containers with tight fitting lids. Glass or hard plastic are best, although heavy-duty plastic bags can be used.
- Check the herbs daily - when they are thoroughly dried, put them in airtight containers. To preserve the herbs' full flavor, avoid crushing the leaves until you are ready to use them. Store dried herbs in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. Many herbs will maintain their quality for a year if stored properly.
Freezing herbs preserves the essential oils which give them their flavor. It is also a very easy way to preserve fresh herbs. Remove the stems, rinse the leaves in cold water, shake off the excess water, and chop them coarsely. Fill an ice cube tray with the chopped herbs and add just enough water to each cell to cover; then freeze. When they are frozen, transfer the cubes to freezer bags or containers for storage.
You can also freeze herbs by spreading them out on a tray to freeze and then storing in bags or other containers. Remove the leaves from the stems, wash the leaves and spread them on a towel to dry before freezing.
Herbs that have been frozen become limp when they are thawed, so they are not suitable to use raw, but can be added to any cooked dish the same as fresh herbs. Use the same amount of frozen herbs as you would fresh - the flavor does not intensify as it does when herbs are dried.
Do not re-freeze herbs after thawing.
Preserving Herbs in Pastes:
Another method of preserving herbs is to chop and blend them with enough oil to make a paste, which you can then store in the refrigerator for up to a month or the freezer for up to six months. Use 1/3 cup of olive oil for two cups of chopped fresh herbs; blend it together well and store it in glass jars. For small portions, you can freeze the mixture in ice cube trays. When it is frozen, transfer the cubes into a plastic freezer bag. These are handy to grab an drop into soups, stews, and sauces as you need them.
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