Picking fresh, homegrown herbs for your kitchen is a great way to save money and elevate the flavour of your food. Expensive to buy in a supermarket, many popular varieties are cheap and easy to grow from seeds or small plug plants. While you may have a ready supply through the summer months, tender herbs don’t always fare well in the winter. Here’s how to preserve and store your fresh herbs for all year round use…
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What are the best ways to preserve fresh herbs?
Depending on which herbs you grow, you can preserve a bumper crop by drying, freezing, or adding to oils and vinegars. For all methods, pick the herbs just before they flower, selecting the topmost, most tender new stalks. Picking before they flower ensures the leaves contain the most oil for maximum taste and aroma.
Dried herbs can be kept in a clean, airtight jar for up to two years, while frozen herbs retain their flavour for up to 6 months. For something a bit different, you can also make your own flavoured oils.
How to dry fresh herbs
Slow air drying is the best way to preserve the flavour and aroma of herbs. Gradually allowing the moisture to evaporate preserves the optimum amount of oil. You don’t need any special tools or equipment apart from an airtight storage container. Here’s what to do:
- Take a bunch of freshly picked herbs and wash well.
- Blot carefully to get them as dry as possible. Wet herbs will go mouldy before they’re able to dry out.
- Tie the stems together and leave in a cool, dark area for about 2 weeks or until the herbs are thoroughly dried.
- Chop them finely or leave larger leaves like bay and rosemary sprigs whole.
- If you don’t have a suitable area for drying then try putting them in a paper bag, with a few holes for ventilation.
- Store in a clean, dry, airtight jar.
Herbs most suited to drying: Thyme, Rosemary, Bay, Sage and Tarragon.
How to freeze fresh herbs
Freezing fresh herbs is a great way to savour their flavour beyond their short shelf life. Elevating a dish from ordinary to extraordinary, you don’t even have to thaw them before use. Here’s how to freeze herbs for the best results:
- Harvest herbs on their stalks and wash well.
- Dry thoroughly, as excess water can lead to freezer burn.
- Place bunches of herbs into a plastic bag and freeze. To use, simply snip the required amount off the bunch with scissors.
- Alternatively, finely chop herbs and freeze them into ice cube trays with a little water.
- Basil tends to lose its colour when frozen so puree in a blender with a little olive oil before transferring to the ice cube tray.
- Once frozen, transfer the herb cubes into a zip-lock bag or airtight container and leave in the freezer until needed.
Herbs most suitable for freezing: Basil, Chives, Parsley and Coriander
How to make flavoured oil and vinegar
Basil, rosemary and oregano can all be used to make flavoured oils. To avoid botulism, it’s important to acidify the herbs first using citric acid:
- Make a citric acid solution using 2 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of citric acid granules and 2 cups of chopped, fresh herbs.
- Soak the herbs in the solution at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Botulism toxin will not develop in this medium.
- Remove the herbs, drain well and pat dry.
- Add the herbs to olive oil and infuse at room temperature for up to 10 days. Use one part herbs to ten parts oil.
- Store in the fridge where it should keep for up to six months.
Herbs most suitable for infusing in flavoured oil: Basil, Rosemary and Oregano
Preserving and storing herbs is a fantastic culinary trick that allows you to capture the essence of summer and bring it to your table whenever you desire. Read our article on how to grow herbs for advice on expanding your kitchen garden.
Lead image: Oregano ‘Hot and Spicy’ from Suttons