Winter is right around the corner and it has you wondering how to save as much of your garden’s harvest before the frost hits. If your harvest is full of fresh herbs, then you are in luck. Many times, using traditional preserving methods of produce with the use of herbs will help retain, or compliment, the natural flavor of your harvest. While there are a plethora of herbs available, traditional herb gardens include: basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, oregano, sage, chives, and mint.
Preserving your garden herbs is much easier than other fruits and vegetables. Typically, herbs can be dried, made into a pesto, or infused into oils and vinegars. Drying fresh herbs is probably the easiest way to keep them for the long term. Just tie the herbs into a bunch and hang them upside down in a dark, cool place. It is important to only keep dried herbs for less than a year because over time they will begin to lose their flavor.
Making herbs into a pesto is the best way to freeze herbs. Fresh herbs normally cannot be frozen because the herbs will turn black in the freezer and will be too limp for use when thawed. Making the herbs into a pesto solves this dilemma. Pesto, by definition, is a mixture of herbs, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese. For the purposes of herb preservation, though, the cheese should be left out of the recipe.
Any herb can be used to make a pesto. And, in most cases, the color of the herb can be saved if you blanch the herb before making it into a pesto. Blanching involves dipping the herb into boiling water for one full minute then immediately plunging it into an ice water bath.
After the pesto is made, freeze it in ice cube trays so that you will have pre-made portions ready for use.
Herbs can also be saved using oils and vinegars. To infuse the herb's flavor into oil, combine in a food processor a half cup of the herb and one cup of olive oil. Once processes, strain the oil to remove the bits of herbs. This oil can be stored for only up to one week (longer if lemon juice or vinegar is added) in the refrigerator. Oil tends to be a breeding ground for bacteria, so it is wise to not go beyond the one week limit.
Herb infused vinegar does not have the risk of bacteria growth because it is very acidic. Simply add the herb to the vinegar and let it sit. This flavor infused vinegar can be kept for a very long time.
The rest of your harvest can be preserved using several tried and true methods: salt, sugar, vinegar, rosemary, and bay leaves. While salt is technically a mineral, it has been used as a preservative for centuries, especially where meat is concerned. Salted meat can last for many years because the salt inhibits the bacteria growth that spoils the meat. It also protects foods from yeast and molds.
Sugar is also not an herb, but it is another natural food preservative. Sugar draws the water out of bacteria and microorganisms, thus killing them and/or inhibiting the growth. On a side note, honey (a natural sweetener), is bacteria free, thus anything sealed in a jar of honey will remain as fresh as when it was picked.
Vinegar kills the microbes that spoil food. It is here that your preserved herb garden can come into play. Matching up flavor infused vinegars with various produce will either compliment or save the flavor of your food. Vinegar (or flavor infused vinegar) can be used to preserve other items in the refrigerator. Cheese wrapped in a vinegar damp cloth will not dry out. Ham and bacon wrapped in a vinegar soaked cloth will remain fresh.
Rosemary leaves, when distilled, preserve the color and flavor of your produce. Bay leaves, when dried, are great for repelling insects from your dried goods. Place a bay leaf inside your flour, sugar, rice, oatmeal, or dried legumes canisters (and any other dried goods you have). Most insects, including ants, can’t stand the bay leaf’s fragrance.
Not only will growing herbs increase the value of your garden, they will increase the longevity of your foods and the quality of your meals.