Herbs are best when used fresh. However, we know that summer does not last all year round in New England so gardeners can preserve herbs that is almost as good as going to the garden and cutting them directly.
Harvesting for Preserving
Herbs are most flavorful if picked before they bloom and in the morning after the dew has dried, but anytime you feel the need, pick away!
Freezing herbs is quick and easy! Freezing Herbs quickly captures the color and flavor, locking in the fresh look and taste instantly for cooking months later. Freezing provides the best flavor for parsley, cilantro, chervil, sweet cicely, chives, tarragon, dill and fennel. Freezing takes so little time, it can be done while gathering herbs for dinner.
Tried and True Freezer Method
- Gather a small amount of herbs, leaves and short stems.
- Wash them gently if you must. Remember, water can wash away valuable oils.
- Put herbs in small zip lock bags. Leave air in as a cushion.
- Throw into the freezer wherever you find the space.
Jodie Gilson, Mass Flower Growers Assn.
Using Frozen Herbs
Remove the bag from the freezer just before use. Open the zip lock bag and hit it with your hand on the counter. You have crushed the ice crystals in the leaf, and voila – chopped parsley, cilantro, dill etc.
Reach inside the bag and remove the chopped herbs, leaving the stems aside ( to be used to flavor soup stock).
Sprinkle the herbs on vegetables, salsas, soups and salads. The less frozen herb is cooked, the better the color and flavor.
Air Drying Herbs
The best culinary herbs for air drying are mint, thyme, lavender, oregano, marjoram, sage, rosemary, savory, lovage, lemon verbena and lemon balm. The more quickly the herb leaves and stems are dried and stored, the better the flavor and color.
Gather herbs by cutting the stems just below the healthiest leaves. Tie the bottom of the stems with a rubber band which will tighten as the stems dry. Hang bunches out of direct sunlight. Sun and high heat (over 110F) will destroy oils. Ideal conditions are 75- 110F, low humidity and good air movement. Sheds and attics are good places for drying because they are often warm and dry. Drying time will vary as humid weather permits, 3-8 days should be sufficient. The herbs are dry when they crumble between your fingers.
As soon as they are dry or almost dry, put them stem up in a paper bag. The bag absorbs any remaining moisture as well as holding them safe from humid weather until you have prepared them for storage. When time permits, reach into the bag and strip the leaves from the stems by running your hands over the leaves. Pour dried leaves carefully into glass jars, cover and store away from the light or use dark glass jars.
Sunlight, heat and excess handling will destroy herb oils. Stored carefully the fragrance, taste and color will last about a year, just in time for next year’s harvest.
Herbs can also be dried in a microwave. Wash sprigs, pat dry with paper towels. Remove leaves from stem, spread as a single layer evenly on double thickness paper towels. Cover with another paper towel and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove small dried leaves. Continue drying at 30 second intervals until all are fully dried and brittle. Store in airtight containers in a cool, dry place.