Preserving herbs is easy and rewarding too. Herbs can be dried frozen or mixed into vinegar. Preserving herbs helps you use the herbs throughout the winter months and can help deal with gluts (when you have too much to use at any one time).
Many herbs dry well, especially those with a strong flavours such as sage, rosemary and thyme. This is due to the low moisture content in their leaves so they dry quickly.
Herbs that dry well include:
- Lemon verbena
Try to pick your herbs just before they flower as this ensures that the oil content in the leaves (the flavour) is at its highest. Pick your herbs on a dry day and avoid washing them before dying (excess moisture on the leaves can cause the valuable essential oils to be lost). Pick whole stems of long-stemmed herbs such as basil, sage, rosemary and mint and tie in loose bundles so air can circulate between them. Whole plants of bushier herbs such as thyme and oregano can be tied in pairs. Hang the bundles in a warm, well-ventilated place until they are dry.
Herbs with soft leaves, (such as basil, coriander, chives, mint and parsley) are ideal candidates for the freezer, as this method is the best way to keep their colour and flavour after they have been picked. Freeze your herbs as soon after picking them as possible (this avoids the loss of valuable nutrients, flavour and colour). First wash the herbs, then pack them into individual plastic bags and place in the freezer. Once frozen, they will crumble easily and can be used directly from the freezer without the need to defrost them.
If you are planning to store herbs for a long period, it’s a good idea to blanch them first. Blanching helps keep the herbs in a suitable condition in the freezer for longer. Simply dip them in boiling water, then transfer them into iced water and pat them dry before freezing. Freezing herbs in ice cube trays is another great way of preserving herbs. This way you can simply pop a few cubes into a meal to bring on the flavour. Coarsely chop the herbs and place in the ice cube tray and top up with water. Then add the cubes to your meals as you would with fresh herbs.
Herbs can easily be preserved in vinegar, which make excellent salad dressings. Rosemary and basil make particularly good vinegars. Simply wash the herb in cold water and crush it slightly to release its flavour. Then push into a tall, clean, sterile bottle and fill with warmed vinegar (wine and cider work best). Seal the bottle and leave to infuse for a few weeks before use. You can then strain the mixture through muslin or filter papers to separate the herb from the vinegar. Store the vinegar in a sterile airtight bottle out of direct sunlight.
Herb Oil Herbs can also be soaked in oil to capture their aromatic flavours. The best herbs to preserve in this way are:
- French tarragon
Loosely fill a clear bottle with your washed, crushed herb and cover in a mild olive oil. Leave the concoction on a sunny windowsill for about 2 weeks and shake the container every day to maximise the infusion of the flavour. After straining the leaves (see above) from the oil you can add more fresh leaves to create a really intense flavour. Store the oil in an airtight bottle out of direct sunlight.
Preserving herbs is an excellent way of maximising their use and using them throughout the winter months. Making a herb oil or vinegar can make cooking with herbs really easy, as you have instant flavour without any fuss.