Herbs are the aromatics of the world. It’s so inspiring how nature can create such beautifully scented plants that we can also enjoy to eat. If you are lucky to have planted some in the garden over the summer, you may have been left with more than you can chew (literally) or maybe you bought a bundle at the grocery store and you can’t seem to manage using it up in time.
Don’t fret, there are solutions to these problems that don’t require too much effort.
The first thing I do is share the wealth! If I have a lot of herbs in my garden, I like to give some to my friends, neighbours and relatives. If I am buying a bundle from the grocery, I’ll take half and the other half I will give to my mom. If you’re looking to preserve your herbs are a few things I like to do…
What you’ll need:
- a few cotton/linen dishcloths
- a few baking sheet pans (air/oven dry)
- butcher’s twine (hang dry only)
There are three methods in which you can dry your herbs. It is also important to note that not all herbs are meant to be dried, usually I reserve this method for sage, oregano, thyme and rosemary. Air drying is probably the best way to do it naturally and consumes the least amount of energy.
With all three methods it is important to wash the herbs prior to each method, making sure there isn’t any dirt or debris left. Dried herbs can last for a couple of years, but best consumed within a year. I generally dry the herbs from the summer to last me until I plant again in the spring.
Air Dry Flat: I like to line a large baking sheet pan (you may need several) with a cotton or linen dishcloth, should be breathable, and lay the herbs flat and place it somewhere without a lot of humidity. It can take about a week for it to dry (all depends on how much you are drying). It is important to not have too many herbs piled over one another to avoid poor air circulation. I usually let it sit for 10 days then move onto the next step.
Oven Dry Method: Not my favourite way to dry it, to be honest I never have. With this method, if you are pressed for time then I would turn the oven on low heat, no higher than 180 degrees and let them dry slowly for a couple of hours. Lay the herbs flat on a baking sheet pan and let it bake for a couple of hours, if they aren’t quite dry by the 2 hour mark, continue and monitor every so often.
Hanging Dry: If you don’t have a lot of counter space, another way is to tie small bundles of each herb with some butcher’s twine by the stem and hang them upside down. You can create a clothesline with the butcher’s twine and hang them all up. A drier part of the home would be ideal, less humidity the better. This may take up to two weeks, depending on the temperature of the space and the type of herb, i.e., sage leaves take longer to dry than thyme.
Once they are dry…
Removal: Remove the leaves by holding one end with one hand and with the other run your fingers through the stem the opposite direction in which the leaves point. I find this method works 8 out of 10 times, you may run into a snag, but at that point I just pick off the few leaves that are stubborn. There is no need for fancy gadgets or tools for this job.
Pulse: I like to pulse them in the food processor for just a few seconds to break up the leaves, which will make it easier to use as a seasoning. I typically reserve old spice or small mason jars to store the herbs for future use.
Freezing is much faster since it is done while the herbs are very fresh. Freezing is a great way to retain the freshness of the herbs and I typically reserve this method for parsley, basil and cilantro.
What you’ll need:
- Ice cube/silicone trays (depending on the amount of herbs you have)
- a few dishcloths
- oil of choice (olive oil is my go to)
- cutting board
- a sharp chef’s knife
- reusable containers/bags for the freezer
Wash the herbs, pat them dry with a dishcloth. Once they are all cleaned up, chop the herbs (including the stems, why let them go to waste?) to your preferred consistency. Take an ice cube tray or silicone (all those frozen baby food trays come in handy now) and fill them up with your herb of choice.
Freezing in Oil: Freezing them in oil will help lock in that flavour of the herbs, but also melts faster than water when you thaw them out. I like to use the oil that I cook with, which is typically olive oil.
If your recipes call for oil, then this will work, but if it doesn’t I would reserve some to be frozen in water as well. You’re looking to just cover the herbs with the oil, no need to waste such a precious commodity. These will work great in soups and stews, over vegetables, pizzas and much more.
Freezing In Water: Follow the same method, but cover the herbs with water instead.
Once they are frozen place them in a reusable bag or container and I wouldn’t let them sit in the freezer for longer than 6 months (this should last you the winter).