If you’ve been enjoying herbs from your garden, and you’ve got enough to spare (you may even have a glut!), it’s time to dry or freeze them for use over the winter. We’ll tell you how in this blog. Even if you just have a few extra herbs, have a go!
Why bother? Simply knowing that you grew these yourself! And the better taste, of course. Herbs that have struggled a bit in the real world, rather than lived a cossetted life in a supermarket polytunnel, really do have a better taste. Drying or freezing them now will bring you all that summery herby goodness in the depths of winter, and in a convenient form.
Herbs’ essential oil is at its peak just before they flower. Pick them on a dry day, in the morning, and avoid washing them so you don’t wash the essential oil away.
Go out one morning and pick the freshest and healthiest leaves or branches. Shake carefully to remove any insects and take off any dry or diseased leaves.
The best herbs for drying have strong flavours – bay, sage, rosemary, thyme, marjoram and oregano. These have a low moisture content and dry quickly and well without going mouldy.
Pick long stems and tie them together loosely so air can circulate freely. Hang the bundles in a warm, airy place until they are dry.
If dust is an issue, make several holes in a large paper bag. Label it with the name of the herb. Put the herb bundle upside down in the bag and make sure it has enough room. Tie the bag closed around the bundle and hang it upside down in a warm, airy room.
Have a look after two weeks or so, and then weekly until the herbs are dry. Retain as much flavour as possible by storing them as whole leaves, in labelled and dated airtight containers. Keep them in a cool, dry place away from sunlight and use within a year.
1 teaspoonful of dried herbs = 1 tablespoonful of fresh herbs
Freezing is better for herbs like basil, coriander, chives, lemon balm, tarragon, chervil, mint and parsley which have soft leaves and a higher moisture content. Use them wherever you’d add fresh chopped herbs to a dish.
I used to freeze these herbs in ice cubes until I learnt about freezing them in oil. Using oil reduces some of the browning/blackening and freezer burn that sometimes happens, and is the best way of adding their fresh taste and colour to your food as quickly as possible.
- Either chop firm, fresh herbs or leave them as leaves and sprigs. You can prepare single herbs or one of your favourite mixtures. If you have large quantities, process them in the food processor with some oil until finely chopped.
- Place them in an ice cube tray, about 2/3 full.
- Fill the wells with oil of your choice (rapeseed oil, light or extra virgin olive oil) or melted unsalted butter.
- Cover with clingfilm until frozen and then remove to a labelled zip-lock bag or box.
Instead of using ice cube trays you can use a zip-lock bag as follows.
- Place your chopped herbs and oil inside a zip-lock bag.
- Squeeze out all the air and then seal the bag completely.
- Spread the herb mixture out into a thin, even layer.
- Put the bag on a large plate or baking sheet in the freezer until completely frozen.
- To use: cut or break off as much as you need, reseal the bag, and store the rest for later.
Do give this a go. It’s hard to think of this now but using your very own herbs from the height of summer will help you get through the depths of winter.
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