As we get deeper into fall, the fresh herbs of summer fade into memory. Gardeners in more temperate climates, or who have container gardens in protected spaces may still be eking out a few fresh leaves from their plants. But there are ways to hold onto summer’s bounty even longer. Before your perennial herbs go dormant and your annuals go to seed or die down, it’s time to harvest one last time. With careful preservation, you can stretch those herbs into next spring.
Freezing – High moisture herbs like basil freeze very well. Wash your herbs and chop them up well then place one tablespoon into each cube of an ice cube tray. Fill each cube with water or olive oil and pop the tray in the freezer. Once the cubes are solid, pop them out and store them in a freezer-safe container to use in soups, casseroles and sauces.
This method works well with any tender herb like basil, cilantro, oregano, tarragon, lemon balm, mint or parsley.
Drying – Any of the woodier herbs are prime candidates for drying. Simply pick the stems, give them a rinse and bundle 4 to 6 branches together, tying with string. Hang them upside down in a warm, dark place for 2 to 4 weeks. If you are worried about dust, critters, or any other foreign stuff, place the bundles inside of a brown paper bag, leave the stems out for hanging and poke some holes in the bag for air circulation.
For herbs with high moisture content like those above, you need to dry them quickly to prevent mold, so tie them in small bundles and place them in a very well ventilated area. Or… opt for oven drying.
To oven dry herbs of any type, simply pick them, wash them and lay them in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 150 – 200 degree oven for 3 to 4 hours.
To store dry herbs, place them in airtight containers and keep in a cool, dry place (and preferably dark – so use dark glass).
Herbs maintain better flavor if the leaves are left whole and crushed just before use. Be sure to label and date your containers and use the herbs within a year. If you see any signs of mold, mildew or anything unpleasant, don’t hesitate – throw them out.
1 teaspoon of crumbled dry leaves is equal to 1 tablespoon of fresh.
Keep growing – The best way to keep fresh herbs in your kitchen all winter long is to grow them indoors. If you’re lucky enough to have the right light, it’s easy to grow herbs like mint, chives, lemongrass and parsley indoors. Herbs like oregano, basil, cilantro and thyme can also be grown indoors but have higher needs for sun.
To make indoor herb gardening even easier, look into using a specially designed terracotta herbpot to keep them watered and healthy all through the season.