-- by Xuan Sibell

Herbs are prolific growers. Even with frequent harvesting, there will probably be more herbs than you might need. Maybe it is time to think about different ways to store them, so that there will be an abundant supply of herbs for the coming months. It has been a hot and dry summer, wonderful in some ways, but we are definitely ready for cool and rain.

There are herbs (such as sage and rosemary) that can be harvested almost year round, in the Portland area, as long as the winter does not get very cold.  However, most will need to be preserved, such as the annual herbs, so that they will not be wasted. Besides, it helps to plan ahead right now for those Fall/ Winter holidays that call for herbs in food preparation.

The beauty of herbs is that there are many ways to preserve them. Herbs can be dried by: exposing them to air; placing them in the oven, microwave, and refrigerator; or using the food dehydrator. Salting is another method which has the added benefit of flavoring the salt for culinary uses. Adding herbs to vinegar is also a great way to add that extra umami to our salad dressings or marinades.  Ordinary olive oil can be infused with herbs to give it that extra delectable flavor. Even butter can taste just a bit better when herbs are added. And there is always room in the freezer for more pesto. Besides, all these can be made into nice holiday gifts for your family and friends.

Preparing herbs for later use can be time consuming but it is worth the effort. However, if you are short on time, try freezing them instead. Many of our garden herbs take well to freezing, and they almost taste like fresh.

First, a few guidelines to keep in mind before freezing herbs:

  • Herbs must be free of moisture unless you choose to freeze them in a liquid medium
  • Whatever container you choose to put your herbs in, pack them full of herbs to keep the air-space to a minimum, or remove as much air out of the container as much as possible.
  • Freeze for use in a single recipe to minimize having to reseal the container.
  • Do not defrost when ready to use

Now, take a look at your garden. If you have basil, hives, oregano, marjoram, parsley, thyme, dill, rosemary, tarragon, and mint, then they can all be placed in the freezer for later use. There are some who recommend blanching herbs before freezing them to prevent them from turning dark, but there are some who insist that it is not necessary if care is taken to remove as much air out the of the container prior to freezing. If you choose to blanch:  dip herbs in boiling water, swirl them around until the color brighten, rinse herbs under cool running water, and blot dry with towels. Otherwise, use the guidelines above to freeze herbs:

For leaves such as basil - arrange each leaf singly on a tray. Place in freezer till they harden, then leaves can be packed and stored together in an air tight bag or whatever container you have.

Leaves with stems such as dill, thyme, oregano, rosemary, parsley- freeze the same way as you would freeze individual leaves. ( see picture)

Pack in ice - useful for just about any leaf (whole or chopped up); stack leaves in an ice cube tray then fill it with water. Once it is frozen, the cubes can be removed and stored together.

Freeze in oil - pulse about a cup of herb with a quarter cup of oil. Place in ice cube tray to freeze. The important thing is to make sure there is a small layer of oil covering the herb.

Rolled herb - gather a bunch of stems tightly or in bundle. Freeze then snip as needed . A good thing to do with chives.

Then there are classic herb combinations that typically call for dried or fresh herbs, but why not freeze them and use as needed?  Some examples are: Bouquet garni, which is

usually a combination of (but not limited to) thyme, parsley, and bay leaves. These herbs can be frozen together to be used in makingsoups. Herbs de Provence, a mixture of rosemary, thyme, oregano, and savory, can be used in seasoning many dishes. Fines Herbs, a traditional French mixture of chervil, chives, parsley and tarragon. Chop these finely together and freeze until you are ready to use them soups, eggs, potatoes, and sauces. Or make your own herb blend and place them in the freezer.

Fresh herbs are always good to have around. Dried herbs will always have its place in the pantry. If you have not tried freezing herbs, give it a test. Some herbs may work and some may not, but it is always good to have a range of option when it comes to storing herbs.