Preserving herbs

Preserving Herbs

Preserving lets you get the flavor of herbs when they are out of season, or just take advantage of a bounty. It is so simple to use herbs out of season, you just need a little imagination and a bit of time.

You can preserve herbs in many different ways, and there are 6 different ways listed here with some variations.

Traditionally, people look at drying or freezing. However, you can preserve them in oil, sauces, butters and infusions.

Drying herbs

Drying falls into two basic methods: air drying or heat drying.

To dry by air, hang up bunches of herbs in a place where you have good air circulation.

This could be an outhouse, shed or cupboard.

The bunches need protecting from direct heat and light. Check them regularly for mildew.

When they are dried to crispness, crumble them into opaque, air tight jars and store them in a dark, cool place.

You can microwave herbs to dry them. Put a few herb leaves on a piece of absorbent paper and give them a 30 second blast in the microwave.

Allow to cool and see if they are brittle. If they're not, keep going in 10 second bursts until they are, then treat as air dried herbs.

You can use a low oven. Just put your oven on the lowest setting, spread the herbs over a baking tray and leave the door slightly ajar. Keep testing for brittleness.

The advantage of heat drying over air drying, is that the results are quicker. If you make a mess of heat drying, you know it pretty quickly and will have time to cut more herbs and try again.

Freezing herbs

Freezing is very simple.

Just put chopped herbs into an ice cube tray, cover with water and freeze. When they're solid, turn them out into labelled polythene bags and return to the freezer.

Grate some horseradish into ice cube trays in readiness for horseradish sauce. When they're frozen, turn them out into labelled polythene bags. Just add a cube to cream and mix, adding cream until you get the right consistency.

Season with salt and pepper before serving with roast beef or smoked mackerel.

With these methods, you should be able to keep yourself in herbs until the next growing season.

Once your herbs grow again and you have enough to keep you going, get rid of last year's herbs so that you can start again from fresh with the new ones.

Preserving herbs in oil

Preserving herbs in oils is very easy.

Half fill a jar with herbs and then cover with olive oil. Shake every day for two weeks and then strain into clean bottles. If you prefer, you can leave the herbs a little longer so that the flavour intensifies.

You can use any herb you like for this, including garlic.

The use by date is the same as the original oil would have been.

Herb butters, a way of preserving herbs

Herb butters are easy to make.

Chop up four tablespoons of herb to 8 oz of butter. Mix thoroughly, then roll into a sausage shape.

Chill in the fridge for about an hour before using.

Cut into discs.

The use by date will be the same as the butter, but you can freeze the discs so that they keep longer. Open freeze them on a tray and then turn into labeled polyethilene bags. Use them straight from the freezer if you want to.

These are an excellent way of pepping up plain fish, steaks or vegetables without the need for fancy sauces and will keep about three months.

Preserving herbs in sauce form

Mint sauce is the most famous of all preserved herb sauces.

Chop a large handful of mint. Add some white vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, stir to dissolve and then taste.

The use by date is the same as the vinegar you made it with.

Tips for better preserved herbs

If you have your own herb garden, gather herbs for preserving early in the morning after the dew has gone, but before the sun is properly on them. Cut them just before they flower. The oils will be at their best.

Wash them with clean water and then dry them well before you attempt to do anything else with them.

They need to be really clean and fresh before you add them to anything as they could contaminate what you use.

Herbal infusions

An infusion is merely steeping fresh herbs in boiling water for about 20 to 30 minutes.

You can use infusions to rinse your hair, freshen your clothes, give yourself a deep steam facial or tone your skin after cleansing.