A way to use your amble herb crop from your herbal gardens is to make flavored vinegars. To make herb vinegar, wash and dry your fresh herbs thoroughly then pour warm vinegar, not hot, over them in glass jars. You can use any type of vinegar but distilled. Be sure that the fresh herbs are completely covered by the vinegar. Seal the jar and allow them to sit for a month or two to mingle the flavors. Do not allow the herb vinegar access to direct sunlight.
After the herb vinegar has steeped remove the fresh herbs that you used and add new ones for a fresher look. If you want to add garlic or chili peppers to the herb vinegar, thread them on wooden skewers so that they will stay submerged.
There are no herb vinegar recipes that have strict rules. Use your imagination when pairing fresh herbs to be used in your herbal vinegar. Here are a few that go well together.
Cinnamon Basil and Whole Cloves
Lemon basil by itself
Cinnamon sticks with Whole Cloves Nutmeg and Allspice
Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, and Thyme -no kidding
Dill flowers with Peppercorns
Basil Garlic and Peppercorn
Hot Peppers alone or with Pearl Onions
When you start to use your herb vinegar, as the level of the liquid goes down take out any of the herbs that are exposed to the air in the jar. If you leave them in the jar they may form a mold. Never use metal tops on the jars, they will rust from the vinegar.
Your herbal gardens have been a success but now you have so many herbs you don’t know what to do. You’ve already made several herb vinegars. Still your herbal gardens have produced so much basil you can’t think of any other ways to use it. You’ve garnished every plate this summer with parsley from your herbal gardens and you still have a bumper crop. It is one dilemma that many herb gardeners have had over the years. There is a fix for abundant herbal gardens.
From your herbal gardens you can freeze herbs or dry herbs easily and by utilizing these methods you will have herbs long into the winter months. A favorite method is to wash and dry the herbs. Put them in the bottom of plastic ice trays, fill with stock and freeze. Anytime you make soups or stews just pop in as many as you wish. Once frozen put them in Ziploc bags and label with the name of the herb. If you were diligent about pinching your herbs back during the growing season you should have a lot of herbs from the herbal gardens. Pinching applies to oregano, chives, basil and thyme. Woody herbs like rosemary should be cut vigorously to keep them from getting too woody.
To freeze herbs without the stock, wash and gently dry the herbs. Put them in a Ziploc bag that can withstand the freezer. As needed you can take out your herbs and chop them for your recipes. The herbs will no longer be of use for garnishing but they will retain their flavor, they just won’t be as intense as fresh herbs from the herbal gardens.
To dry herbs is pretty simple. Pick the herbs from the herbal gardens after the dew has dissipated. Harvest from your herbal gardens just before the herbs bloom. That is when the herbs are at their peak flavor. Gather them into a bundle and tie a string around them. Hang them upside down in a room with good circulation and no light. This will take a bit of time. Drying time varies with humidity and temperature of your climate and the item that you are drying. Most of the time about 14 days will do it. To check pull off a leaf, if it crumbles easily it is ready. Once they are dried put them in a tight sealed container away from light.
You could use the microwave to dry herbs. Once again, harvest your herbs from your herbal gardens after the dew is gone. Wash and gently dry the herbs. Put them between two pieces of paper toweling. Two paper towels on the bottom and two on the top. Cook them on high for one minute and then check them. If they are still moist, cook again at twenty second intervals. You must watch this very carefully. Hot spots could occur and the towels catch on fire. Once they are crisp seal in an air tight container in a dark spot. Now you will have dried herbs from your herbal gardens all winter long..
Another alternative is to dry herbs in your oven. Turn the oven on to its lowest setting. Spread the herbs out on cookie sheets, put them in, prop open the door and check in about an hour, if they are not done continue drying, check ever thirty minutes. If possible leave the herb leaves intact. If you crush them before storing they will lose flavor.
When you go to use your dried herbs the rule of thumb for usage is that for every tablespoon of fresh herbs you would use, only use ½ teaspoon of dried.
This was to help you use up the abundance of herbs that you grew in your herb garden this summer. Enjoy!
Good Luck and have fun!
Copyright © 2006 Mary Hanna All Rights Reserved.
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Mary Hanna is an aspiring herbalist who lives in Central Florida. This allows her to grow gardens inside and outside year round. She has published other articles on Cruising, Gardening and Cooking. Visit her websites at http://www.ContainerGardeningSecrets.com