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November 18, 2020

Food Preservation Part 2: Savoring Herbs All Year

By Amanda Rose Newton

Here in Florida, we are fortunate to be able to grow most herbs year-round.

To get the most out of your herb plants, regularly clip fresh sprigs instead of letting them bloom and go to seed to help prolong their use. While this is great, in theory, for many it means more fresh herbs than we have use for at the moment.

African Blue Basil going to seed.

By drying, freezing, and storing your herbs you not only get the most out of your garden but your wallet will thank you, too!

Store-bought dried herbs can run you upwards of $10 per container, whereas home-dried herbs are simply the cost of the plant and your time.

Package your herbs in upcycled jars with personalized labels to make a great holiday gift that can be enjoyed all year long.

Drying Herbs

There are several ways you can dry herbs at home with ease. Before getting started, it’s important to keep in mind the specific characteristics of each such as leaf size, oil level, and ability to hold in moisture.

Broad-leaf herbs like cilantro, basil, and sage tend to be a little bit simpler to dry or store than delicate plants like dill, fennel, tarragon, and thyme.

Dried herbs have a more concentrated taste than when fresh, so keep this in mind when adding dried herbs to dishes. A little pinch goes a long way!

How to Dry Herbs

When it comes to drying herbs, you can keep it simple or get fairly high-tech if you want.

The classic go-to method for many is to simply bundle a bouquet of fresh herbs, tie it off with twine and hang it upside down in a dark, dry, non-humid room and allow the air to naturally do its thing. If you are interested in going beyond the usual, feel free to give one of the following a try:

Microwave Drying Herbs – I was skeptical of this method, as I’m not a fan of microwaving food to begin with, but I was impressed with the overall quality and flavor of its performance. The secret appears to be ensuring the greens are in a single layer, not touching, and are not wet before hitting the start button. A quick 1-minute spin around the microwave is all it takes to sufficiently dry them out.

Oven Drying Herbs – If you prefer not to use the microwave, the oven is perfectly sufficient for drying herbs. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay your fresh clipped herbs in a single layer. Set the oven on the lowest setting and allow it to “slow bake” for half an hour. If the leaves crumble easily when removed from the oven, then you are good to go!

Dehydrating Herbs – If you are lucky enough to own a dehydrator or looking for an excuse to, you will be happy to know it does more than just dry fruits and meat! Herbs do fantastic in the dehydrator as well, especially if you have inserts to protect layers from falling below (if you do not, you can make one to fit out of basic plastic mesh). Set it to the lowest setting for about 2 to 3 hours. Once the time is up, flip the tray upside down over a clean bowl to catch the crumbling herbs.

Choosing a Container
Glass is the way to go when storing fresh herbs. This way, you do not have to worry about plastic leaching over time and influencing taste. Save finished spice jars, old bottles, mason jars, or get creative with (unused or cleaned thoroughly) apothecary or perfume containers for storing future herbs.

Freezing Herbs
If you are short on time, freezing herbs might be your best bet. Surprisingly, certain herbs like dill, lemon balm, mint, parsley, sage, thyme, and basil all maintain much of their fresh flavor when frozen.

There are a few ways you can package them up for freezing. Placing leaves in flattened plastic bags is the classic. You can also combine herbs that naturally go well together, like oregano and thyme, in the same bag.

To cut down on meal prep even more, toss herbs in a blender with a little oil and citrus juice to create a paste that can easily be frozen in bags and tossed into a hot pan to make a quick sauce or topping for entrees.

My personal favorite way to freeze is to take advantage of the ice cube tray since it is likely on its way to the freezer anyway. The individual compartments make it easy to separate out your herbs, just cut them into small pieces, place them in the compartments and fill with water or oil. When ready to cook, just pop an herby ice cube right into the skillet or pot. Done and delicious!

Herbs as Gifts

With the Holidays barreling towards us faster than many are prepared for, herbs double as a great edible or scented gift! Below are 2 great DIY projects that are not only fun but also a great way to give inexpensive thoughtful presents this year.

DIY Herb Satchel

Best Herbs for the Job: Lavender, Lemon Balm, Mint, Rosemary, Thyme. If you have some dried scented flowers like gardenias or roses (by the way- you can dry these the same way as herbs) now is the time to use them!

  1. Choose a small bag that is breathable, such as mesh or these cute organza sachets that have one open side.
  2. Choose your favorite herbs and fill to the top of the bag.
  3. If you’d like to enhance the scent, feel free to add a few drops of essential oil.
  4. Either sew or glue the bag closed OR you can tie the ends tightly with a decorative ribbon or string.
  5. Give your finished project a good rub, this will further crush the herbs and release more fragrance.

DIY Herb Infused Olive Oil

Best Herbs for the Job: Basil, Cilantro, Parsley, Rosemary, Savory, Thyme

Parsley
  1. Add herb leaves and oil to a blender and blend until smooth. Softer herbs like basil and cilantro will require 1 cup of herbs per 2 cups of oil, whereas woody herbs like rosemary may require up to 4 cups of leaves per 2 cups of oil.
  2. Add your herbal oil to a medium saucepan and bring to a low simmer over medium heat for roughly a minute.
  3. Strain into a clean bowl through a fine-mesh strainer or cheese cloth.
  4. Strain once more through a finer material, such as a paper coffee filter into a new bowl. Let the oil settle for 2-3 hours, pouring off any dark liquid seen.
  5. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use within 1-3 months.

DIY Homemade Herbs de Provence Seasoning

For the foodies in your life, give the gift of spice with this homemade French cuisine staple!

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons dried rosemary
1 tablespoon fennel seed
2 tablespoons dried savory
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried basil
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers
2 tablespoons dried Italian parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried tarragon

Method:

  1. Grind rosemary and fennel seed in a spice grinder
  2. In a small bowl, stir savory, thyme, basil, marjoram, lavender, parsley, oregano, and tarragon with the rosemary and fennel.
  3. Store in an air-tight container sealed with your own personalized gift label! Good for up to one year.