I love growing herbs in my garden for cooking and medicinal uses. Fresh herbs small great and are packed with flavor. I mix herbs in with our other plants and even in the flower beds to act as fillers. Sometimes I find myself with more herbs than I could ever imagine using and no one I know is in need of herbs at the time. In fact, only a few of my friends use herbs and no one uses them as much as I do. Preserving the herbs from my garden allows my family to enjoy them all winter long.
Why should you preserve herbs from your garden?
You can preserve your own herbs to make the most of your abundant harvest when you grow your own herbs. The average family does not use enough everyday herbs and spices to use the sheer amount of fresh herbs that can come from a well-tended garden.
After a while, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to find anyone willing to take an additional harvest of herbs. If you preserve your herbs at their optimum freshness, you can enjoy all their flavor throughout the winter months. I find that when it comes to cooking, some herbs like oregano, basil, and mint, when dried, tend to have a better flavor than those that are fresh.
How to harvest herbs from your garden
Throughout the growing season, you should pick off bits of your herbs on a regular basis in order to get a larger harvest. Although you will be able to utilize a good portion of these fresh herbs while they are still fresh, others will need to be dried or otherwise preserved in order to last for a longer period of time. In most cases, you can harvest herbs by simply pinking a few points of the stem with your clean hands.
If you plan to harvest larger quantities of herbs that are woodier, such as lavender and rosemary, then you’ll need garden shears that are clean and sharp.
With this method, it is possible to achieve a smooth, even cut that will not damage herb plants that you want to keep growing. After harvesting from your plants, always clean your sheers between each one to prevent spreading disease and bacteria.
How to hang herbs to dry
The simplest way to dry fresh herbs is to hang them to dry. This is done by harvesting enough of the herb wrap a string several times around the bottom ends, tying securely. This bundle can be hung in a cool, dry place out of the way where no one will bother them.
To keep them clean and dust-free, you can cut a hole in the bottom of a paper bag and string the end through the bag to hang. This will provide protection from dust and other things that may get on your herbs as they dry.
Allow to hang to dry for at least 2 weeks. When they are fully dried, the herbs will crunch in your hand when you rub them between your fingers. I love having fresh herbs hanging to dry. The smell of the fresh herbs as I walk past them always makes me smile. I like to hang them from page branches I grabbed from our backyard that I hung from the wall.
How to use a dehydrator to dry herbs
With a dehydrator, herb freshness can be dried much faster. You can dry most herbs in a dehydrator for 6 to 8 hours on the lowest setting it offers. Whenever you are drying herbs, you should lay them out so that each layer has enough space for air to flow.
With drying, the herbs will shrink, leaving more space for air to circulate, so your layers do not have to be perfectly placed. By crushing the herbs between your fingers, you can check that they are fully dry. They crumble when they are ready.
How to store dried herbs
If you plan on storing your fresh, dried herbs, you will need to condition them first. Before I knew about this method, I had lost a lot of great dehydrator projects to missed moisture. Add to a glass jar with a lid the herbs you’d like to use in the largest chunks possible.
Shake this jar every day to see if moisture appears on the side. In this case, your herbs were not fully dry, and you should continue to dry them in a dehydrator or sandwiched between two layers of paper towels in the sun to finish the process.
The dried herbs may be crushed or left whole after drying and conditioning so that they can be stored in jars. One great way to make your dried herb last longer is to store them in mylar bags with an oxygen absorber or use a vacuum sealer to seal the dried herbs from the elements.
The humidity in the air will cause your dried herbs to lose their flavor, so you should always store them in an air-tight container to keep them fresh.
How to freeze fresh herbs
The most popular method of storing dried herbs is by far drying, but it is by no means the only method. Freezing your herbs from your garden is also a great way to keep them fresh. Rather than freezing in a single layer, you should place them on a cookie sheet before moving them into an airtight container.
Putting fresh herbs in an ice cube tray with a little water is one of the easiest ways to freeze them. Toss a couple of herb-filled ice cubes into the water to flavor it, or you can add it directly to soups and stews. In addition to flavoring tea and lemonade, herb-filled ice cubes are also fantastic for ice. My favorite herbs for freezing into ice cubes are lavender and mint.
How to make herb-infused oils
The use of herb-infused oils makes cooking quick and easy. I love to use herb-infused oils for sauteing vegetables, frying eggs, and rubbing on meats to adding flavor when oven roasting. Rosemary garlic oil is my favorite for roasted potatoes.
It is best to store these oils in dark glass oil bottles in a cool, dry place so that they can be accessed easily when cooking. Olive oil is often the preferred option due to its full yet complimenting flavor and ability to maintain its quality when heated. Putting dried herbs into cooking oils is a quick and easy way to infuse those oils quickly with herbs.
Filter and store the oil after soaking the herbs for two to three weeks. In order to speed up the process, you can heat the herb oil and herbs for about five minutes before allowing them to cool before filtering.
How to make herb butter
Using herb butter as a home preservation method is a quick and easy way to preserve fresh herbs. To use this melted butter, let it simmer slowly on the stovetop and add in your chopped herbs. Prepare by pouring into ice cube trays and freezing in small portions to be cooked. As soon as the cubes are solid, you can remove them from the trays and place the cubes in an air-tight container in the freezer.