How To Preserve Your Herbs

Save your herbs for the cold winter months in these easy steps.

| August/September 2002

Preserve That Harvest

If your garden is growing at a gallop and producing far more than you can use at the dinner table, now’s the time to think about putting some herbs by for the coming months. You’ll be glad you did.

How you preserve your herbs depends on what you’re harvesting and how you plan to use it. Some herbs hold up well to drying, keeping much of their flavor and fragrance in the process. Others seem to store better in the freezer. When drying herbs for craft uses, you don’t have to take care to preserve the flavor, so you can cut some corners.

Water your garden the night before, taking stock of what to harvest and carefully rinsing off the leaves as you go. Drying is a good technique for culinary herbs such as oregano, rosemary, marjoram, lavender, thyme, mints, and sage.

In the morning, after the dew has dried, gather a basket and your pruning shears and head to the garden. If it’s a cloudy day, all the better. You want to work as quickly as possible, harvesting whole stems rather than just leaves. Get them into the house promptly.

Sort the herbs and check the leaves to be sure they’re clean; if your rinsing in the garden from the night before wasn’t sufficient, rinse them and pat them dry (or use your salad spinner). Most herbs can be dried whole; for herbs with thick stems or leaves, removing the leaves from their stems will help them dry faster.

Spread the herb stems and leaves out on a screen (or if you just have a few, several layers of paper towel can stand in), and place them in a spot where they’ll get good air circulation (even from a fan) but are away from sunlight, heat, or moisture.

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