Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Preserving Fresh Herbs

It's no secret that I love to grow my own herbs. When harvesting fresh herbs it's best to nearly decimate the perennials - so that often leaves me (pun intended) with large quantities of herbs at one time. That has lead me to investigate different ways to preserve their freshness. Keeping herbs fresh is mostly about water - preserving water in the plant and avoiding excess condensation on the leaves to cause rot.

For the love of fresh Herbs!
Leafy herbs - like parsley, basil or mint, do not keep as long as non-leafy ones (like tarragon, rosemary, chives, thyme, or dill.) More large leaves gives greater surface area for water loss and space to capture moisture which lends to rot. So keep that in mint when you harvest or buy fresh.

Once during a class, a gentleman asked me when fresh herbs were no longer suitable for use. I wanted to say "when they don't look fresh" :? but instead the reply was when the leaves turn dark, dry out or any part of the plant begins to show traces of mold or rot.  

Not all herbs are equal - they need to be treated differently. 

Preserving Freshness of Hard Stemmed Herbs - these have a woody stem, particularly for older growth. These include rosemary, oregano, marjoram and thyme. When I think about keeping these woody herbs fresh - I think about putting wood in water. What happens to a log or stick that is kept moist? It rots. So for hard stemmed herbs, I find it best to keep them wrapped in a moist towel, and placed in an open zip lock in the produce drawer in the refrigerator. I also punch a few holes in the zip-lock to make sure that there is good air-flow and less condensation in the bag. I do not wash these until I m ready to use them - also keeps down the threat of mold or rot. I use this technique if I'm going to use the herbs within a week. Otherwise, I tie these up with a decorative thread or yarn and dry them upside down - I discuss that technique below

Preserving Freshness of Soft-Stemmed Herbs -  have pliable stems. These include basil, cilantro, parsley, and tarragon. Think of soft stemmed herbs like fresh cut flowers. strip leaves from the lower portion of the stem and then place them in water. Put the vase of cut herbs into the refrigerator - for longest freshness water loss can be reduced further by covering them with a plastic bag. I don't usually do this because I like just reaching into the frig and grabbing a bunch of herbs :)  Make sure to change the water daily. If you keep them in the window, especially for basil (which some say should never go into the refrigerator), you may end up with the cuttings forming roots. Yeah! more plants for your garden or friends. 

Freezing Herbs:  Wash and let the herbs dry. Remove leaves from the stems - unless it's an herb where you would use the stem in cooking (Parsley, dill.) Throw the leaves into a zip-lock, remove air, seal and then into the freezer. It's easy to break off a piece for use rather than thawing the entire bag. 

Fresh Herbs - Chives

Drying Herbs: If I harvest more herbs than I think I can use right away, and the freezer is full, and I'm not making them into herb flavored vinegars or oil or compound butter, the option left is drying them.  I  will chop them up and dry on a paper towel. Also a bunch of tried herbs makes a great gift! 

Here are the quick steps for drying herbs:

  1. Rinse excess sand and soil off herbs. Easy option is filling a bowl with water and submersing the herbs 
  2. Remove the herbs and place the herbs onto paper towels and pat dry 
  3. Once the surface water is gone, I tie them up and invert.
  4. Place out of direct sunlight and in a spot with good airflow
  5. Add a pretty bow and gift away
 Do not try drying your herbs in the microwave or oven. It reduces flavor and can start a fire

Thank you so much!

Happy Gardening

Teresa Marie

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