Fresh Herbs, Take Two

Feeling a little blue that the summer season will be ending soon? And that with the end of the season your fresh herbs might be nearing their last few harvests? Me too.

I simply love the taste of mint and basil in our salads. And there is no way that a change in season will keep us from enjoying them! Wondering how to extend the life of your fresh herbs all throughout the year? Fear not, I have some tips to help you savor them and even share them with friends and family as gifts.

What type of herb are you drying?

Before choosing a method of preservation for your fresh herbs, consider the sturdiness of the herb itself. Tender leaves, such as basil, dill, parsley and mint, are better suited to freezing. But wait, do not just throw them in the freezer, they will turn brown! To prevent them from turning brown and to better capture the flavor, try blanching them first. Take the bunch of herbs, tied together, and drop into boiling water for several seconds, no more. You do not want to cook them. Then with a slotted spoon or tongs, transfer them to a bowl of ice water to chill for several seconds to stop the cooking process. Blot dry them with paper towels or in a salad spinner. Remove the leaves from their stems and spread them in a single layer within plastic storage bags and freeze. Blanched herbs can be frozen for up to four months and can be chopped in their frozen state before being added to soups, stews and sauces. Blanching and freezing herbs was not a method I had thought to try previously, but it can produce more flavorful results for your more tender herbs than simply hanging them to dry.

Reserve air drying for hardier leaves, such as rosemary, thyme, sage, lavender and oregano.

Begin by wrapping a piece of kitchen twine around the stems, creating a loop. Hang the bunch, upside down, in a cool, dry place until they are brittle to the touch, usually four to ten days. Worried about dust while they are suspended in your kitchen? Try enclosing the bunches in a paper bag with enough holes punched in it to keep air flowing. Once they are dry, pick leaves from stems, and place them a tightly sealed air-tight jar. Create your own labels, and don’t forget to date them! Store the dried herbs in a cool, dark place. They should keep for 6 months to a year. They even make great gifts. We often save old spice jars, remove the labels and re-purpose them. You can buy new spice bottles though from a container or kitchen store quite easily and cheaply. It’s sure cheaper and a more creative gift than buying dried herbs!

Other ideas

I did also come across some additional methods for drying herbs in tulle. Tulle is the thin fabric used in sewing projects, or more commonly in veils. To do this, first wash and rinse the herbs and pat them dry. Then arrange the herbs on 18 to 24 inch squares of the tulle. Then loosely roll into tubes, do not bundle them tightly. Loosely tie the ends with kitchen twine and place them in the refrigerator for about two weeks. Once they are dry you can package them just the same as mentioned above, by removing them from the stems and placing them into storage containers.

Another neat trick that I learned recently from the Queen of all things domestic, Martha Stewart, was how to take those frozen basil leaves and create frozen basil and olive oil ice cubes. The cubes are perfect for reusing later for pesto or dips without having to thaw a large batch. Simply take some of the blanched and frozen basil leaves you created previously and place them in a blender or food processor. Tip: using the blanched leaves will ensure you don’t end up with brown cubes. Cover the leaves with extra-virgin olive oil and puree. Pour the mixture into ice cube trays, filling each cube about 2/3 full. This should be about a tablespoon. Place the tray in the freezer. Once solid, remove the cubes from the tray and place into a plastic freezer bag. That’s it, now you can take one or as many cubes as you need from the freezer all throughout the next season and enjoy the fresh basil and olive oil mixture.

Share and Enjoy!

So there you have it. You don’t have to stop enjoying your fresh herbs just because the season ends. You can enjoy herbs during the fall and winter by preserving your summer herb plants. You’ll not only add a fresh pop of flavor to your soups and sauces — you’ll also save money and create some one of a kind gifts!

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