Harvesting & Preserving Herbs Tips

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How do I collect herb seeds?

Drying Seeds

Pick the whole seed heads of fennel, cumin, caraway, coriander, marigolds and sunflowers while still slightly under ripe. Cut them off with a length of stalk still attached and suspend them head down. Wrap a muslin cloth or paper bag around the seed head. When the seeds are dry, they will fall from the seedpod into the bag.

Carefully remove the bag from time to time and sift out the seeds.

How do I dry herbs?

Drying Herbs

Drying is one of the best methods for preserving herbs, but it does require a clean workspace and time. Before drying, pick over your herbs and remove damaged or spoilt leaves and stems and any impurities.

Here are three different ways to dry herbs. Choose the one that is most suitable to the space you have available:

  • Bundle the herbs, tie the ends securely together with twine and suspend upside down in a dry airy place. This works well with long-stemmed leafy herbs like parsley, coriander, lovage or celery. If you're doing this in your home, place a tray under the herbs to catch loose leaves. Move from drying position to storage when the herbs are totally dry.
  • Line a workbench with newspaper or kitchen paper and spread out all the herbs in a single layer. Turn occasionally and move to storage when completely dry.
  • If the weather is growing cool or very humid, your herbs may not dry very well and may be in danger of spoiling. In this case, you can dry the herbs in a very low oven instead. Spread the herbs out in a single layer on a large baking sheet and place in the bottom of the oven. Set the oven to its lowest possible temperature. Leave the oven door open a little to allow moisture to escape. Check the herbs after 20-30 minutes. If some moisture still remains, continue drying and check every 5-10 minutes.

How do I make herb vinegar?

Herb Vinegars

Another method of preserving a glut of fresh herbs is to turn them into herb vinegar. Assemble your selection of herbs, washed and gently dried, and place them into a clean glass bottle or glass jar. Then pour warm (not hot!) vinegar over the herbs until they are completely submerged. White wine vinegar, light red wine vinegar, rice and cider vinegars can all be used to make flavored vinegars. Malt vinegar is not suitable. Close the jar or bottle tightly and leave to stand for one to two weeks before using.

Select your herbs for interestingly flavored oil and oil bottles that are visually appealing. Try parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme vinegar – ideal as a marinade for meat and or in a dressing for plain green salad. Coriander (seed and leaf), garlic and chili pepper make an interesting mix for Moroccan and Mexican dishes. Very unusual, but well worth trying is red wine vinegar with cinnamon, cloves, ginger and dried orange rind. Use a teaspoon of this spicy mix with stewed fruit or add to mulled wine.

What can I do with surplus herbs?

Delicious Herb Oils

If you find yourself with a glut of fresh herbs you can successfully turn them into herb oil. Stored in the refrigerator and allowed to come to room temperature before using, they are a handy condiment to have around.

For basil, parsley or coriander oil: put washed herb (leaves and stalks) into a blender. Crush the herb, and then begin adding good quality olive oil in a slow stream while the blender is running. Add enough oil to create a bright green sludge. Leave to infuse for 30 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh sieve into a glass jar or bottle. Drizzle over vegetables, tomatoes, salads or use as part of a marinade for fresh fish.

For rosemary oil: heat a quantity of oil in a small pan until you can see tiny bubbles. Do not let the oil come to the boil! Turn off the heat and add 1-2 whole sprigs of rosemary and 1-2 peeled, slightly crushed garlic cloves. Add a whole fresh or dried chili pepper if you want spicy herb oil. Leave to infuse until the oil is cool. You can now strain out the rosemary and garlic, or add it to your storage jar or bottle. This oil keeps very well at room temperature and does not need to be kept in the refrigerator. Use it to roast potatoes or pumpkin or when frying pork.

How do I store fresh herbs?

Storing Fresh Herbs

When storing fresh, culinary herbs it is important to stop them from drying out. Bunches of herbs such as parsley or coriander can be placed in a glass of water. Place in a light, airy position, but out of direct sunlight, where these herbs will wilt.

Alternatively, cover the cut stems of the herbs with a damp tissue and enclose the whole bunch of herbs in a plastic bag. Keep in the bottom of the fridge for a day or two.

Remember that herbs begin to deteriorate as soon as they have been picked. For the freshest taste, use as soon as possible.

When is the best time to harvest herbs.

When To Harvest Herbs

Harvest herbs you want to store or preserve on a warm, sunny day when the dew on the leaves has dried. Use sharp clippers to cut your herbs to avoid bruising leaves or stems and store the cut herbs in a basket or paper bag until you get home.

Never pick herbs when it is damp or very humid, as they may spoil before you can process them. For the same reason, don't pick more than you can comfortably process on the same day.

Culinary herbs that you plan to use straightaway can be picked at any time.

Can fresh herbs be frozen?

Freezing Herbs

Many herbs can be successfully frozen, but freezing is most often used for culinary herbs. Parsley, thyme, coriander (cilantro leaf), basil, chervil, lovage, celery, oregano and marjoram all freeze well. They can be added to your cooking straight from the freezer.

Wash your chosen herbs and chop them well. Spread out on a freezer tray and open freeze until solid. Pack into plastic freezer bags and label clearly. These should last three to six months in the freezer.

Alternatively, add your herbs, chopped or whole, to ice cube trays and cover with either vegetable stock or water. Pop into the freezer and freeze until solid. Remove the ice cubes into plastic freezer bags, label and return to the freezer.

How do I store dried herbs?

Storing Dried Herbs And Seeds

Dried herbs and seeds should be kept dry, cool and dark to prolong shelf life and avoid deterioration.

Paper bags, colored glass jars with tight lids or terracotta containers with tight-fitting lids all make suitable storage containers for dried herbs and seeds. As you are using your herbs, it makes sense to transfer them to a smaller container, rather than leave a small amount of herbs in a large jar.

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Patricia Walters-Fischer
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