Preserving Herbs From Your Garden

Air drying herbs is the easiest and most common method of preserving. Freezing and steeping are two other methods that can be used to preserve and store herbs. Each of these methods has it's own benefit.

Warnings for preserving herbs along with any other crop from your garden or purchased elsewhere are the concerns of pesticides, the use of chemicals in your garden or neighboring areas and improper storing or preserving can cause Botulism. Botulism can be a fatal food poisoning. Some characteristics of Botulism are blurred vision, breathing difficulties, speech problems and progressive paralysis. Without the proper diagnosis and treatment these symptoms can be fatal. Consult your local health department for the proper methods needed to preserve any type of herbs or crops before attempting it.

The first step in preserving herbs along with any crop is to properly harvest them. Herbs can be either annual or perennial. Annual herbs can be pulled from the ground, cut the stems or leaves and dispose the roots and any other unwanted portions of the plant in the compost. Perennials are plants that will survive the winter months and have new growth the following season. These herbs need to be harvested by cutting the stems off at the base of the plant, leaving the root system to reproduce a new crop the following year. When harvesting herbs care needs to be taken not to bruise the leaves.

Once the crop has been harvested they need to be carefully cleaned. If there is excessive dirt on them then the best method to clean them is to spray them with a fine mist of water and gently hand wipe them clean. Patting them gently on a dry paper towel will also work in removing access moisture. Leaving the herbs to air dry after washing leaves a risk for mildew to accrue. It is best to make sure the herbs are dried off before starting the preserving process.

Air drying is best when tied in bunches with no more than ten stems. Bunching to many together will only prevent or reduce the amount of air circulation that is needed to dry them properly. Hang the tied bunches in a dry, dark, well ventilated area that is warm but not humid. The ideal temperature for drying herbs is sixty eight degrees Fahrenheit. If you don't have a natural dark location that meets the temperature needed to dry your herbs it can be easily created by covering the herbs with a brown paper bag. The bag will need to have hole punctured in it to allow for the proper air circulation and ventilation. This method of drying can take anywhere from one week to three weeks depending on the type of herb and it's leaf thickness. Once the herbs have dried enough that when they crumble in your hand they are ready to be stored in an air tight container.

Freezing is another method of preserving and storing herbs. It usually works best for herbs with soft leaves like basil or parsley and on herbs that are to thick to dry like chives.

Herbs should be cleaned the same way as you would for drying. Once they are clean remove the leaves and place them in a freezer bag or other container. All containers should be labeled and dated before storing, most herbs should keep for three months when frozen. To extend the life of herbs that are frozen they will need to be blanched first. This can be simply done by blanching them with boiling hot water for just a few seconds and then quickly cooling them in an ice water bath before packaging them for the freezer. Blanching the herbs before freezing then can extend the storage time to six months.

Another unique method of freezing herbs is to chop the herbs up small, place them in an ice cube tray filling it about one third full and the remaining two thirds with water. Once the herbs are frozen you can remove the cubes as needed for cooking.

Steeping is another method of preserving herbs in oil. Olive oil is the preferred oil to use for this method, but oil that you generally use will be fine. Clean the herbs as you would for any other method of preserving. The only difference is that with steeping you can leave the leaves attached to the stems. Leaving the leaves attached to the stems is most common when you are using the oil as a herbal flavored oil. This method is usually done in a jar and the stems with the leaves are left in the jar for decorative purposes. When steeping leaves that are being used for cooking they can be stored in a container or a wide mouth jar for easy access to remove them for cooking.

Herbs that are preserved by the method of steeping in oil need to be stored in a refrigerated area and they will have a shelf life of about six months.

A environment friendly and healthy way of gardening. Organic gardening is a way of gardening in harmony with nature. Growing a healthy and productive crop in a way that is healthier for both you and the environment.

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