How to preserve herbs.
If you’ve managed to cultivate your own herbs, and basked in a warm glow pride after popping out to gather them, it seems a shame that when the end of the season arrives, or indeed you have a glut that you can’t quite get through, they might go to waste.
Well, the answer is to gather herbs at the end of the season and preserve them so that you have supplies available after the growing season is over. Sound easy? Well it should be, but the tricky bit is to harvest at the right time and dry the plant materials carefully.
So, here are some top tips on how to do it:
Firstly, just like through the growing season, it’s best to harvest herbs in the morning after the dew dries.
Make sure you harvest them when they still look good – don’t wait until they are dry or turning brown, and always get them before the frost does. This way, you know that you still have high quality herbs even if they’re dried or frozen.
When you dry or freeze your herbs, use up any that remain from the previous year first – then your supply won’t be more than a year old and you won’t be having old ones by mistake. Also, if you’ve dried your herbs, keep them in glass containers or jars, away from heat and out of sunlight.
Finally, and crucially, make sure that you label and date your jars. It might seem obvious at first…
So, to dry or to freeze?
Traditionally, drying is the most popular way to preserve your herbs. You simply dry them in a dark, airy place – like the airing cupboard. So long as they are not in direct sunlight and have good air circulation around them, they will dry. Tie them into bundles and hang them upside down. When they’re ready, just strip the dried plants from the stems or shake them into a bag until the stems are cleaned, then empty the bag into a waiting glass jar. Keep leaves and seeds whole and crush them as you go along – this will retain their flavour better.
If you decide to freeze your herbs as an alternative to drying them, you’ll find that they mostly retain their properties when frozen. They will go darker and look slightly different, but that won’t matter when you use them in your cooking. You simply rinse them in cool water and pat them dry with kitchen roll or a clean, dry tea towel. Remove the leaves and flowers from the stiff stems and cut them up with scissors. Sprinkle them on a baking tray and put them in the freezer for about an hour so that they freeze individually rather than in a big clump. Then just place them in a freezer bag and return to the freezer to be ready when you are.
Easily grown herbs that freeze well include mint, basil, parsley and lemon verbena, though most of them are worth a try.
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