Just in time for spring, our gardening column is back! “The Garden View” takes a look at all aspects of working in the mud. This week, how you can grow your own herbs and avoid spending money at the grocery store.
Growing your own herbs is easy and fun. You can grow specialty herbs that may not be available at local markets and they can be harvested when you need them for cooking. Preserving herbs for future use ensures you have fresh herbs throughout the year.
Here are some suggestions for harvesting and preserving fresh herbs:
- Herbs should be harvested at their prime, when their oils and aroma are at their highest. Annual herbs may be cut back 50-75 percent and still recover. One-third of a perennial herb plant may be cut at any one time. Use sharp pruners or a sharp knife to make clean cuts.
- Harvest early in the day after plants dry off and before it gets hot. Herbs are best harvested before they flower otherwise leaf production declines. Deadheading as flowers appear will result in continued production of new leaves suitable for harvest.
- Make sure plants have not been sprayed with pesticides. A variety of products control insects and diseases but many are not cleared for use on herbs that will be eaten.
- The traditional way to preserve herbs is by air drying or using low heat. Drying concentrates the flavor of herbs so you may need to use one-third to one-fourth the amount of fresh herbs in recipes.
- Gently wash the herbs and thoroughly dry on paper towels. Remove any dead or damaged material. Tie in loose bunches that allow for good air circulation around each bunch. The herb bunches can be put into small bags with stem ends sticking out of the top of the bag. Punch holes in the bag for ventilation. Hang herb bunches in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area out of the sun. It may take up to a month for herbs to dry completely.
- Tray drying is another method that works for short-stemmed herbs or individual leaves. Attach a screen wire to a simple frame. Place herbs in a single layer and place in warm, well-ventilated area not in the sun. Leaves may need to be turned to insure even drying.
- Home food dehydrators do a great job of drying herbs. Check the owner’s manual for directions.
- Herbs can be dried in a conventional oven if the temperature can be closely monitored. A temperature between 90 and 110 degrees is ideal. It may be necessary to leave the oven door slightly open to maintain a low heat. It can take 3-4 hours to dry herbs using this method.
- Freezing herbs is the easiest method of preserving herbs, but is suitable only for herbs being used in the cooking process. Freezing will alter the appearance quality but not the flavor quality.
- After herbs are washed, coarsely chop and place generous pinches of herbs in water filled ice cube trays. Frozen cubes can be transferred to plastic bags and stored in the freezer. Take individual cubes out as needed.
- Herb leaves can also be blanched in boiling water for one minute and then quickly cooled by plunging them into ice water. Leaves can then be put into tightly sealed plastic bags and frozen.
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