Herbs have many benefits—including those of health, spicing up a meal, and medicinal—which is why storing herbs assures you of having those benefits at your fingertips.
Many herb plants are vigorous producers, and before we know it, we find that we have more on hand than we can use at any given time. This is where it can be beneficial to learn how to store and preserve the bounty, in the long-term, so that you can make the most from your harvest.
There are several tried and true ways to store herbs properly, and they each have their own sets of pros and cons. With this said, let’s take a look at a few ways that herbs can be safely and correctly stored.
Whether you are a life long forager for herbs or choose to grow them in your backyard, once the herbs are cut and harvested, the clock is quickly ticking away on how fresh they will remain until you store them. Collecting them as they are needed is the best route, but more often than not, we don’t all have this luxury. Knowing how to preserve them for future use comes in somewhat handy.
As a rule, your herbs need to be stored in some form of airtight container and then placed in a cool, dry place out of the reach of sunlight. If this is any moisture left in the container, it will only serve to invite the growth of mold, which will then result in spoilage. There is also the fact that any light that allowed to get to the containers, as well as air, will aid in the overall breakdown of the very chemicals that provide the herbs with their flavor and potency.
Do not grind up your herbs before storage as this increases the surface area, which will then work towards reducing their overall shelf life. Keep your herbs whole, and when you are ready to use them, proceed to grind them up then.
Generally, the best method for preserving a herb harvest is by way of drying them before storage. If done correctly, the process of drying them prevents the possibility that they will spoil or mold. Even with the most ideal of conditions, the shelf life will vary very from herb to herb. However, by choosing one of a few different methods to prepare and store your herbs, you are sure to keep your harvest for a long time.
It is well-known that by drying herbs, you will assure to keep them for years beyond those that are fresh. Although a dehydrator could prove to be a valuable staple in your kitchen and is excellent when it comes to drying herbs, there are other means to dehydrate them as well. Dehydrators, although convenient and useful, do require electricity to run.
Drying In The Oven
Choosing to dry your herbs in your oven is a by-gone manner of performing the same job as the dehydrators of today. You will need to set your oven on the lowest setting possible (never more than 180 degrees Fahrenheit.)
You will need to spread your herbs out on a cookie sheet, making sure that they do not touch and have adequate room allowing air to circulate between them.
After placing them in the oven, make sure you check on them every couple of hours. Once they are dry to the point they crumble in your fingers, remove them and allow them to cool.
Essentially, a drying rack can be comprised of a pan or hanging rack that you allow you to hang your herbs, either indoors or outdoors, until they have completely dried out. Although this is admittely one of the easiest ways to dry herbs, with the least amount of maintenance, there is the problem that if a large gust of wind comes by, your herbs may get blown away.
With this said, there are herb drying racks that are specialized for just this type of situation. With built-in closures, your herbs remain exposed to the air. However, you won’t have the problem of a sudden breeze carrying them away.
Hang drying has the advantage of working both indoors and outdoors. You will simply need to bundle the stems of your herbs together, with either string or rubber bands, and proceed to hand them upside down.
If you decide to dry your herbs outside, you will need to protect them from both the sun and any invading bugs or animals. This can be achieved by covering them with a paper bag.
Another excellent option is freezing, as many herbs respond well to preservation in the freezer. One method is by way of creating “herb cubes,” which add quick flavors to most any dish. To make these, you will need to adequately pack ice-cube trays with your choice of chopped or full-leaf herbs and thoroughly saturate them with water.
Once the cubes are adequately frozen, pop them out into pre-labeled plastic bags for easy freezer storage. When needed, take a few cubes out, allow the ice to melt, and pat the herbs dry. You can then use them in your favorite recipe as if they were fresh.
Want a little more taste? Instead of water, try freezing them in broth or olive oil. When cooking, you can place the cubes directly into your dish, without waiting for it to melt. For example, try adding beef broth to such herbs as oregano, basil, or rosemary when making a dish with pasta sauce.
You can also choose to freeze whole or chopped herbs, without any liquid, in plastic freezer bags. A word of caution, though, frozen herbs are prone to developing freezer burn much more quickly than their counterparts frozen in either water or oil.
When you suddenly find yourself with an overabundance of herbs, don’t panic. You can choose to go the route of storing herbs for the long-term in one of many ways. In this manner, you assure that when needed, you will have them readily at your fingertips.