I thought I would spend a little time taking about herbs.
Every year I plant herbs but somehow I never seem to utilize them to their fullest..mostly because I really didn't know how to.
This year I decided it was time to learn a bit more about growing, harvesting and storing herbs. If I'm going to grow them I should be using them right?
One thing I have learned is herbs should be harvested early in the morning. As the day heats up the herbs release their oils which creates a bit of bitterness if they are harvested later in the day....so early yesterday morning I headed out to the garden with my big basket and kitchen shears.
This year in the herb bed I have the following herbs....
Lemon Thyme, Pizza Thyme, Tarragon, Sage, Flat leaf Parsley, Cilantro, Dill , Oregano, Lavender and LOTS of Basil...we love basil here. :-)
What we did was to take an old wooden window screen that had been in the barn and to that Ken cut out a piece of nylon mesh screen that we have for screen repair to the size of the window screen. We then stapled that piece to the top of the screen on the same side and added a strip of velcro to the bottom and the sides. This way the herbs can be stored either horizontally or vertically out of the sun and still get good airflow for drying. The cost was next to nothing...yay!
Basil is a tender herb and bruises easily, so when I harvest it I try to utilize it quickly. If you can not get to it right away you can put it in a vase or bucket of water like you would a bunch of flowers to keep it from turning black.
So...what I do is pull all of the leaves off of the stem....fill up my little mini food processor and add a tablespoon of Olive Oil to keep the basil green.....hit the button...chop, chop, chop....add a little more basil...chop, chop, chop chop...and then....
I press the mixture into these little silicon muffin bakers that I have. These go into the freezer for a few hours..then I remove and put the little muffins into a freezer bag. Each little muffin is the amount that I use for a double batch of pesto which we eat a lot of. I also toss this mixture into my spaghetti sauce or soups...yum!
Some herbs in the garden are very prolific, such as Oregano, Thyme and Rosemary. Cutting herbs back hard every 7-10 days encourages growth and holds them back from flowering, but there is no way that we can use that many herbs in that short of a time frame, so these herbs I dry when I cut them back.
There are different methods of drying, such as the drying rack that I use for the less prolific growers. The other method I use is drying upside down in bunches. In the picture above you can see the fresh oregano that I picked on Saturday. I stripped the leaves about an inch down from the end of the stem. Then I gathered about 5 or 6 stems and wrapped an elastic around the end. These bunches live in my office where I have a shaker peg rack. It takes about 2 weeks for them to completely dry. Once dried I slide my hand down the stem and the dried leaves go into the jar....easy peasy. :-)
With tarragon I do something a bit differently. Tarragon is another herb like basil that holds a lot of water and has a tendency to turn black, so with Tarragon I strip the leaves off of the stem and chop it finely with a knife.
I then set the chopped tarragon on a dry cotton towel to dry. It only takes a few days for tarragon to dry this way and the nice thing is...it dries green :-). Tarragon is my favorite herb from the garden and I love the way it's aroma fills my kitchen as it is drying....mmmm....!!
Lastly and the easiest is storing herbs you know you will use within a week. Just wet a paper towel and wrap a little bundle in it. Above you see a bundle of cilantro and a bundle of parsley. I pop these little bundles into a plastic bag and use them as needed during the week....again, easy peasy!
Drying herbs does take a little time. I spent my Saturday morning doing all of this, but I will be happy that I did so when I use these dried herbs in my cooking over the winter. I know that no pesticides were used and I saved a boatload of money ...dried herbs are getting expensive in the supermarket!
I hope that these little tips will encourage you to plant an herb garden. There is nothing quite like wonderfully fresh herbs....and the dried ones that you raised yourself will make you smile in the winter..... :-)
And now a treat from the perennial garden...one of my most favorites...Rudbeckia. If you click on the picture you will see the tiny happy bee fly.....buzzzzz............Thanks Paula for letting me know that it isn't a real bee...who knew!