I’ve been preserving and processing herbs from my garden for years now. I honestly can imagine my cooking without them and I make sure I always have some in my pantry. Survival foods can become dull after a while and you won’t be able to prepare tasty meals without herbs.
Keeping a well-equipped pantry is all part of the prepping process, but few people pay attention to details. You can stockpile all the grains and jerky you want, but think also about how to add flavor to your dishes. No matter what meal you cook, you can always improve it with a few herbs. Besides making even the tasteless dishes edible, it will also help you prevent food fatigue in the long run.
Growing your own herbs is rather easy and perhaps this is why they are considered beginner crops. You should have no problem growing them outside or indoors, as it takes less work than other, more traditional crops. Preserving and processing herbs for long term storage and use is also no big deal as you will see in this article.
Most herbs are at their peak in July and it’s the perfect time to start your preserving plans. From experience, I can tell you that you should harvest the herbs for storage mid-morning. The logic behind this is quite simple. Wet plants won’t dry well and will stick together if you freeze them. This is why you need to wait for the dew to dry and let the sun help you.
Make sure you harvest all your leaf herbs before they flower, otherwise they become tougher and begin to lose flavor. As for flowers, the buds need to be harvested just before the buds open fully. When harvesting seeds, here’s a trick I’ve learned. Tap the seed had and if the first seeds fall loose, cut the pods and get them indoors.
Your evergreen herbs, especially the ones grown in pots, can be harvested fresh all year round. There should be no need for preserving and processing herbs as such, unless you have large crops and you want to avoid waste. Another advice I can share with you is to avoid taking more than a third of the leaves from perennials. Harvest leaves from healthy plants only and take the opportunity to prune the plants while you’re at it.
Methods of preserving and processing herbs:
This is a method I’ve used for preserving soft-leaved herbs such as basil, parsley and chives. It’s a simple method that doesn’t require blanching. You just need to place the leaves or sprigs into plastic tubs. If the leaves are dry and you won’t compact them, they shouldn’t stick together. You will be able to take out what you need and crumble them into your cooking pot.
Related article: Blanching Vegetables For Long-term Storage
Another method of preserving and processing herbs which involves freezing is to pack them into ice-cube trays. You will need to chop the herbs and pack them into the gaps of an ice-cube tray. Top them up with water and let them freeze for a few hours. Once the cubes are frozen solid, remove them from the tray and place them into plastic bags. Stack your freezer with as many plastic bags as you would need.
When it comes to preserving and processing herbs, drying is the preferred method for many. It’s a simple method that allows you to preserve your herbs for a long time. You also don’t need expensive equipment to do it, and you could improvise a drying rack or use your oven.
If you want to try this method, remember to dry each type of herb separately because they will taint one another. A good airflow is needed and you should keep in mind that different leaves dry at different rates.
Suggested reading: Drying Herbs And Spices
When drying herbs, separate large-leaved herbs into individual leaves and small-leaved herbs into small sprigs. To retain the flavor of herbs, you need to dry them as quickly as possible and this is why some people prefer to use a food dehydrator.
Regardless of the method you plan on using, you should know that the herbs are ready when the leaves are brittle enough to crumble. The first pioneers used to hang their herbs up in loose bunches in an warm, dry and airy place and it worked just fine for them. I often use this method when I don’t have the time to do otherwise. Just remember that you need a good airflow or your herbs will go musty.
In my experience, oregano and its kin dry well, just like thyme, mint, lovage, lemon balm and savory. Fragile herbs such as fennel, dill and chives can be dried as well, but retain little flavor. I’ve also dried parsley and basil, but I’m not particularly fond of the results or the culinary merits.
Oils and Vinegars
This is a method of preserving and processing herbs that I’ve learned from my mother, which is part Italian. Herb oils and vinegars retain the flavor of summer herbs and you can preserve the flavors for many years. As a general rule, I use four or five large sprigs of freshly herbs to 20 ounces of oil or vinegar.
For making oil, I use the warm infusion method since I’m afraid the cold infusion one can cause botulism. As you will see in the following lines, the warm infusion method requires for you to heat the oil, which is safer in my opinion. The cold infusion method requires for you to leave the herbs in oil at room temperature for up to four weeks.
For making vinegar, you can use either method since bacteria can’t grow in an acidic environment. You should be safe, regardless of which of the two methods you use.
When preserving and processing herbs by making oil and vinegar you can try the following herbs: fennel, dill, basil, lemon balm, mint, oregano, tarragon, thyme, savory and rosemary.
How to make Herbs Oil
As a first step, you need good-quality oil with neutral taste or at least a mild tasty one (I often use sunflower oil). I’ve noticed that robust herbs like basil work well with a mild olive oil.
Chop the herbs and put them into a pan with the oil. Heat it on a low flame until a few bubble start to rise at the surface.
When you notice the bubbles, remove the pan from the heat and cover it with a piece of cloth. Let the herbs infuse for about two hours.
Now strain the oil using filter paper into sterilized bottles. Discard the herbs and store the oil at room temperature, in a dark, cool place.
Related article: 12 Herbs You Should Have In Your Garden
How to make Herbs Vinegar
To make herbs vinegar you should only use wine or cider vinegar. If you use malt vinegar, you will kill the flavor of most herbs.
As I said before, you could use both methods to make herbs vinegar, it all depends on how much time you have to spare. You could chop the herbs and put them into sterilized jars and top them up with cold vinegar. This would require letting the jars stand in a warm place for four weeks, and shake the jars every couple of days.
If you’re in a hurry, you can put the herbs and vinegar into a covered bowl over a pan of water, Bring the water to a boil to heat up the vinegar. Now, remove the bowl from the pan and let the herbs infuse for about two hours.
Regardless of which method you use, when you have the desired flavor strain the vinegar and discard the herbs.
Pour the vinegar into sterilized bottles and store in a cool dark place.
Making herbs condiments
Another way of preserving and processing herbs is to make condiments. For example you can make pesto from basil and add it to pasta, soups and even pizza. Parsley also works great for making pesto and I often make some using walnuts as well. Some may argue that pesto will last only a couple of weeks in the fridge and that’s true. However, they don’t know that it can also be frozen for long-term storage. Using pesto ice-cubes if one of my methods of preserving this tasty condiment for longer periods of time.
Another way to make herb condiments is to make herb sauce, or glorified herb vinegar how my husband calls it. I often make mint, sage, thyme or rosemary sauce and it can be diluted with water or vinegar as needed.
Preserving and processing herbs doesn’t require hard labor and even a child could do it. The method described in this article will help you make the most of your herb garden and avoid wasting any produce. By preserving and processing herbs as described, you will be able to enjoy the fresh summer taste of herbs even during the long colder months of winter. There are so many ways you could enhance the flavor of your meals using herbs, that it makes sense to stockpile your pantry with lots of herbs.