Fresh herbs can transform mealtimes from the ordinary to the sublime! But while evergreen herbs such as rosemary may be picked throughout winter in many areas, others will need to be cut and stored before the end of the growing season if we’re to enjoy their flavours during the colder months. Read on to find out about some clever but simple ways to do just that.
Drying is the easiest way to preserve herbs. Gather stems into small, loose bunches. Secure the ends together with an elastic band or twine then hang upside down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place that’s out of direct sunlight. Herbs with smaller leaves, such as thyme, can be laid out on newspaper or on a rack to dry. For best results herbs should be fully dried within two to three days.
A speedier alternative to air drying is to use a microwave. This method is also useful in damp climates where air drying can prove difficult unless you have a dehydrator. Spread individual leaves out onto paper towel then cover with another layer of paper towel. Place into the microwave for one to three minutes, checking the leaves every 20 seconds and rearranging as necessary to ensure even drying. Allow to cool before storing. Herbs are dry when they are crunchy to the touch.
Storing Dried Herbs
Store dried leaves whole to retain their flavour. Place them into airtight jars, labelled with the name of the herb and the date. Store them in a cool, dry place where they should keep for up to a year.
Fleshy herbs such as basil, parsley, dill and coriander lend themselves to freezing. Blanch them in boiling water for a couple of seconds before plunging into a bowl of ice-cold water to stop the leaves from cooking further. Pat dry between dish towels then pack the vibrant-green leaves into labelled freezer bags.
Herb Ice Cubes
Ice cube trays offer a convenient way to add recipe-ready portions of frozen herbs at cooking time. To freeze, add chopped herbs to the trays so that each cube is about half full. Top up with water then freeze as normal. This is also a great way to preserve edible flowers such as borage for adding to drinks. Once the cubes are frozen they can be popped out into a freezer bag to save on space.
You can also blend herbs with oil then pour the mixture into ice cube trays to freeze in the same way. This method also works really well for basic pestos – just make up your pesto, pour into the ice cube trays, freeze, then pop out and pack into freezer bags ready to add to your favourite recipes.
A variation on oil-herb mixtures is to make a herb butter. Leave a pat of butter at room temperature to soften up. Chop up your favourite leafy herbs – I love using tarragon! – then mash into the butter using the back of a fork. Pack the butter up into greaseproof paper and twist the ends closed. Herb butter can be kept in the fridge for two weeks or frozen for up to six months.
Vinegars and Oils
Herbs in oils and butters can exclude oxygen, which can increase the risk of botulism disease. To avoid this, be sure to refrigerate them and use within two weeks, unless you're freezing them. An alternative is to lower the pH to below 4.6 by soaking finely shredded herbs in vinegar, then mixing in the oil to make salad dressings, which will last longer.
These ideas offer just a flavour of what you can do to lock in summer freshness to enjoy year round. Of course, there are lots of other methods such as blanching, preserving in sugar, and even herbal wines. If you’ve got a favourite method for storing herbs please share it in the comments section below.