Freezing, Drying, Storing, Preserving and Bringing In your Herbs

Reader Contribution by Lemon Verbena Lady
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You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog   

Because I have been traveling so much this season, I have really forgotten about storage of herbs for the fall and winter seasons. So here’s your herbal wake-up call, as you should be thinking about what herbs you will want to use during the winter. 

Freezing Herbs: I always try to make a short list of herbs–chives and parsley at the very least. For many years I got very carried away and was composting unused herbs in the spring. I would only keep herbs in the freezer for six months, but not more than one year. I love to use the small square blue containers because they are very stackable and they fit in the freezer easily. I particularly like to chop up chives and place them in a container and then they are easily used for sour cream on baked potatoes and scrambled eggs on a Saturday morning. Be sure to mark them with the herb name and date you placed it in the freezer.

Tea Blends: I usually have a lot of herbs that I dry on my clothesline in the basement. They are used for tea blends. These include peppermint, spearmint, orange mint, pineapple mint, sage, lemon balm and anise hyssop. I always try to cut them before they flower since they lose some of their herbal zip if you wait until they flower. You can place your dried herbs in any airtight container. Even a ziplock bag will do. Just as with the freezer you want to mark it and dated it and use it promptly. I also make my own teabags that I buy from Nichols Garden Nursery in Oregon. You just fill each bag with the mixture you wish, take a non-steam iron and seal them. Very easy and fun!

Herbal Vinegars: Another easy way to preserving your herbs is by making herbal vinegars. You can get carried away with this as well. Unless you are planning to give herbal vinegars as gifts, I generally make only three to four quarts of herbal vinegar to store for the winter. The two herbs that come to mind that are preserved in vinegar beautifully are tarragon and basil. You can use the “pickled” tarragon in a recipe just as you would use fresh. Here is a basic vinegar recipe from Cooking with Herb Scents by The Western Reserve Unit of The Herb Society of America with my thoughts as well.

General Instructions for Making Herbal Vinegars

1. Use quality 5 percent acidity, cider, rice, red or white wine vinegars. Do not use white vinegar for herbal vinegars. You can make an herbal white vinegar and use it for cleaning.

2. If recipe requires heating vinegar, use a non-reactive saucepan.

3. Steep vinegars in clean jars that have been sterilized with boiling water for 10 minutes and either use non-corroding caps or place plastic wrap between the jar and the metal lid.

4. Sprigs and leaves of fresh herbs, as well as fresh fruits, should be carefully washed and patted dry before steeping in vinegar.

5. For herbal vinegars, fill clean glass jars about 3/4 full with herbs. Add vinegar to cover. Infuse for 3 to 4 weeks in a cool, dark cupboard. (I usually start checking after two weeks.) Shake occasionally.

6. When the herbal flavor you want has developed, strain through coffee filters until clear. Pour into clean glass bottles and cap.

I didn’t mention one of my favorite things to make in the fall and that’s herbal jellies. If you are in the Pittsburgh area and have some free time on Sunday, September 25, 2011 at 3:00 PM, come on up to Seven Springs and watch me make herbal jelly and try some as well at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR. One of my favorite recipes that I will be making at the Fair is for Rose Geranium Jelly. It is made with white zinfandel. I don’t think I need to say more!

Rose Geranium Jelly
Courtesy of Gooseberry Patch, For Bees & Me, Page 291.   

• 10 to 12 large rose geranium leaves
• 2 1/8 cups white zinfandel
• 3 cups sugar
• 3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
• 1 (3-ounce) package liquid pectin
• 2 tablespoons rose water (health food stores)

1. Remove stems from geranium leaves. Place wine and rose geranium leaves in a sterilized quart jar. Cover jar with plastic wrap and top with lid. Refrigerate for several days (two to three at most).  Strain leaves from wine, discarding spent leaves. Measure 2 cups of wine. Any leftover wine becomes the cook’s treat. It is delicious as an aperitif.

2. Place wine in a three to four quart non-reactive saucepan with three cups sugar and three tablespoons lemon juice. Stir to dissolve sugar. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat stirring constantly until mixture reaches a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Remove pan briefly from heat and add pectin.

3. Return to heat and when mixture comes back to a full rolling boil, boil hard for one minute stirring constantly. A few seconds before a minute is up, add two generous tablespoons of rose water.  Remove from heat and stir and skim foam if necessary for about five minutes.

4. Pour jelly into four sterilized 8-ounce jars to about 1/4 inches from top of jar. Wipe tops of jars clean and put on clean sterilized tops and rings. (To sterilize jars, boil them for ten minutes and keep them hot until you are ready to pour the jelly.) Lids can be left in hot water until needed. Do not boil the lids or rings. Screw lids down and process jars in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.  Remove jars from boiling bath to racks to cool. Check the next day to be sure jars are properly sealed.  If the jars are not sealed, you must refrigerate them and use them promptly. This recipe makes four 8-ounce jars.

You will also want to think about herbs that you want to bring inside for the winter. For those of us in the northeast, rosemary, lemon verbena and lavenders are three herbs that are almost always dug up and brought in for the season at this house. Now is the time to start digging herbs up and getting them into containers and having them get adapted to their new surroundings. Make sure that they are not carrying any insects into your home and that they are disease free. This next two weeks or so will be the plants time to adapt and you can make sure they are in good health and not stressed from the transplant. Because we have a southern exposure in our garage and it stays above freezing, I love to have my herbal containers stay in the garage. In the heat of the basement, they seem to have problems because of the dry heat. If you were to place them in a saucer with pebbles and add water to those pebbles, it would add humidity to those herbs and keep them happy. Also light is very important to herbs inside in any season. Remember a southern exposure indoors is best followed by east, west and north. If you only have a northern exposure, I would suggest that you invest in a grow light of some kind. It will make all the difference in the total health of your herbs when they are indoors.

Hopefully, you have started your harvesting and storing and you will be enjoying your herbs through a not so long and cold winter season. I will get back to traveling posts next time. As always, if you have any herbal questions or comments, please leave me a comment here or e-mail me at Talk to you soon.

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