Preserving herbs and flowers

Chamomile in full bloom – ready to harvest

It’s the time of year that backyard gardeners start to think about preserving their garden harvest for the winter.  We’ve canned our first batch of pickles and frozen blanched spinach, green beans, and broccoli.  As you begin to harvest the bounty of your summer garden, don’t forget the herbs!  We dry them for later use in cooking and for herbal tea.

The best time to harvest leaves or flowers is in the mid morning, when the dew has dried but the plant is not dried out or stressed by afternoon sun.  Pick fresh growth and full newly-opened blossoms.  Older leaves are woodier and older blossoms fall apart easily.  It’s best to harvest clean leaves to avoid the need to wash them after harvesting.  Leaves should be completely dry before dehydrating.

There are several methods for preserving herbs.  Most of the herbs bought in the store have been dried.  If you live in a dry climate, bunching and hanging herbs in a dry warm place is simple and will work great.  We’ve covered our hanging herb bunches with paper bags to allow for air flow but keep off the dust.

In the Northeast, however, we are blessed with humidity during the mid and late summer.  Using a dehydrator is a standard way for you to do this at home.  We have one with stackable trays that works well for herbs.  A few years ago, however, we realized that the pilot light of our stove (which is on at all times) keeps the oven at about 110 degrees. Perfect for drying things out!  We

Chamomile blossoms spread on a cookie tray and ready to go in the pilot light-lit oven.

place herbs on cookie trays in the oven (without turning it on) for about 24 hours.  We use this method for chamomile and anise hyssop blossoms, and lemon grass, mint, tarragon, sage, oregano and rosemary leaves.  We love using the camomile, anise hyssop, mint, and lemon grass for home-grown herbal tea blends.  The other green herbs are perfect for flavoring soups, stews, and sauces.  They’re often fresher and more flavorful than anything you can find on a store shelf.

 

This basil is just starting to show signs of flower bud formation – harvest before flowers form to allow for branching and future growth.

For basil and other delicate and high-moisture leaves, chopping and packing in olive oil can be a better way to preserve the rich but fragile flavors.  Other moisture-rich herbs include cilantro and chives.  Once dried, they seem to loose much of their spark.  We freeze pesto (recipe below) and green sauce, but it’s also just as effective to simply chop/food process a single herb (use about 2 cups) and mix with olive oil (use about 1/3 cup).  Put the resulting paste in small plastic containers and drizzle a bit of additional olive oil on top so that no herbs are exposed to the air.  This will keep your herbs protected in flavorful until you’re ready to use them in the winter.

Pesto
Combine the following ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a paste is formed:
-2 cups Basil
-1/2+ cup grated Parmesan (best to buy as a wedge and grate it yourself)
-3/4 cup Olive Oil
-1/4 cup Pine Nuts
-2+ cloves Garlic
Enjoy fresh or spoon into small plastic containers, cover surfice in additional olive oil, and freeze

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