Gardening Articles: Health :: Cooking
by National Gardening Association Editors
Paper bags are handy for keeping drying herbs free from dust, and for capturing the seeds from herbs like dill and fennel.
The most common ways to preserve herbs are drying and freezing. You can also make herb-based sauces. Try one or more of these methods so you can enjoy that fresh-picked flavor year-round.
Tools and Materials
- paper bags
- rubber bands
- airtight containers
- ice cube trays
- freezer bags
Drying. Many herbs can be air dried by tying several stems together with a rubber band and hanging them in a cool, dark, dry location. Bay, marjoram, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme are good candidates for drying. If the area is dusty, keep the herbs in paper bags during the drying process. Parsley and thyme retain more of their color if they are dried in a 150-degree oven or in a dehydrator. When leaves are brittle, pull them off the stems and store in airtight jars in a cool, dark place. Don't crumble the leaves until you use them because they will lose flavor. Dried herbs keep their flavor and color for about three months.
Freezing. Some herbs keep their flavor best when frozen. These include basil, chives, chervil, dill, lemon balm, mints, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, French tarragon, thyme, and lemon verbena. Wash them thoroughly and shake or pat off the excess water. Place individual leaves or chopped leaves in freezer bags. Flatten the bags to remove air. Dill, sage, rosemary, and thyme also freeze well on the stalks, which you can add frozen to cooking pots and remove before serving.
You can also puree herbs with a small amount of water and freeze the paste in small, zippered freezer bags. Then break off frozen pieces as you need them. Combine herbs that are good culinary companions, such as sage and thyme, mix with a little olive oil, and seal the paste in freezer bags. Or pour the mixture into ice cube trays. Once frozen, remove and store in freezer bags and thaw individual cubes as needed.
An herb's flavor is most pronounced just before the plant begins to flower. You can prolong the harvest by snipping off the flower buds whenever they appear.
The essential oils are concentrated in the leaves in early morning, before the sun causes them to be released into the air. Early morning is, therefore, the best time to harvest. Snip individual leaves or cut an entire shoot just above a leaf node (this will encourage dormant buds to grow at the nodes for a bushier plant).
Harvest the seeds of dill, fennel, and coriander when the flower heads have faded and started to dry. Clip the flower heads and place them in paper bags, then shake the heads to dislodge the seeds. Store seeds in an airtight container.