Autumn is here, and the herb garden is getting ready for a long rest. You have carefully tended to your herb garden throughout the growing season. Now comes the time to reap your harvest to get you over the winter until the garden awakens in spring.
You have a variety of choices to preserve your herbs. For fresh herbs all winter, you can dig some of the plants up and pot them into containers to make a garden for your kitchen windowsill. Or you can dry or freeze your herbs.
Most homegrown herbs should be harvested before the plant blooms. The exception to this rule is herbs from the mint family – mint, dill, and oregano, for example.
Harvest your herbs when you are ready to preserve them. Wash the stems and leaves in a sink full of cold water. Then gathering them by their seams – gently shake off the excess moisture. Now is the time to trim off any yellowed, damaged or wilted leaves.
Separate the herbs into small bunches and tie them securely with cooking twine or regular string. Put the herb bundles stem ends up, into a brown paper bag that you have cut 1/2″ holes in the sides. Be careful to not overcrowd the bag. Close the top of the bag by gathering it up and securing with string. Hang the bag in a dry, even-tempered area such as an attic or dry pantry. Be sure the bag has good circulation around all sides. It will take 5-10 days for the herbs to dry, depending on their type and the size of the plant.
Herbs to be dried using a dehydrator need to be spread out into an even, single layer on the dehydrator’s trays and dried according to the dehydrator manufacturer’s directions.
When the herbs are completely dry, remove the leaves, crumble them and place them in an airtight glass container. Be sure to check them the following day for any signs of condensation on the container. If the herbs are not completely dry they will need to be spread out for further drying.
Properly dried herbs stored in an airtight container will keep their full flavor for about six months.
Herbs that have been preserved by freezing are more potent and closer to fresh than dried herbs. Herbs can be frozen from their fresh state or blanched prior to freezing.
To prepare the herbs for freezing, begin with the same washing process laid out above. Then spread your herbs out on paper towels for at least 1 hour to allow excess moisture to be drained away and evaporate. When well drained, chop the herbs to desired size and place in freezer bags or airtight glass jars.
Herbs can also be blanched prior to freezing. Submerge the entire stem and leaves in boiling water for 5 to 10 seconds. Remove them and dry thoroughly on paper towels, the seal and freeze in heavy-duty aluminum foil, freezer bags, or airtight glass jars.
Frozen herbs will keep two to four months at 0° F.
Using your preserved herbs throughout the winter is nutritious as well as satisfying.