Using herbs from a home herb garden

Article by Pete Steel

So, the agony has passed. You’ve nurtured the herbs in your home herb garden and now you are seeing results. But what do you do now? Don’t despair, using herbs from a home herb garden is the good part. This is the ecstasy.

Always remember that the harvesting of any basket herbs 1produce is a two step process: gathering and storing. Storage needs planning, whilst gathering is usually arbitrary and depends on when you feel your plants to be ready.

One of the great benefits of herbs has always been their excellent storage capability without any great loss of their primary virtue. Using herbs from a home herb garden depends both on the type of herb and your intended usage; you need to prepare for one of several storage methods. For aeons past herbs have been dried or pickled in salt or vinegar. Today we can add freezing to our storage arsenal, for instance, you can freeze culinary herbs in ice blocks for later use in stews and soups.

Using herbs from a home herb garden – rules of engagement – gathering.
There are some simple rules to follow when gathering or storing. The process is really not complicated. To gather effectively whilst preserving their virtues follow these rules:

1. In the week before gathering is to take place, avoid spraying any insecticide near plants.
2. A dry, balmy, moderate spell in June is your best option in Northern climes. (For Southern hemisphere gardeners this means December)
3. Harvest in mid-morning to avoid excessive heat whilst harvesting.
4. Ensure target plants are insect-free.
5. Don’t be greedy. Remove 25% or less of any bushy plant to enable strong regrowth for later use. Discard damaged leaves or stems.
6. If possible, shelter the target plants with shadecloth the night before harvesting takes place. This should be placed on a frame to avoid contact with your plants.

Using herbs from a home herb garden – rules of engagement – storage and preservation.

basket herbs 2We have already covered the choices here. (Drying, pickling or freezing) Let’s cover the how in broad terms. The most important thing when using herbs from a home herb garden is common sense; think about what you are about to do. If all went well with the harvesting, we now have a healthy batch of produce.

Storage method 1 – drying.
Preparation: obtain a packet of rubber bands, a ball of string and some “s” shaped wire hooks.
Method: Take lengths of string and make ‘clotheslines’ in a shaded dry spot. Separate herbs to be dried into bunches comprising 5 to 10 stems. (Depending on type of herb – you will soon get a feel for quantities) Secure these together by twisting the rubber band around the base of the stems. Use the “s” wire hooks to hang the bunches on the ‘clotheslines’.

Storage method 2 – preserving.
Definitely my favourite way of using herbs from a home herb garden.

Preparation 1: obtain several types of bottles with corks capable of a reasonably tight seal. (The following paragraphs will indicate what containers you will need) Steep clean fresh herbs in oil or vinegar. Rosemary, thyme, tarragon, mint, basil and sage all work well. Serve as a herbed vinegar or use as a flavoured oil for cooking or salads.
Preparation 2: Obtain several types of containers with lids capable of a reasonably tight fit and a bag of coarse salt. Place herbs and salt in alternating layers in a container. (Old ice cream containers work for me) When all moisture is leeched out, remove herbs and use aromatic salt in table grinders.

Storage method 3 – freezing.
Preparation: obtain a roll of wax paper and a wide flat container capable of use in a freezer.
Method: Tear or slice herbs into convenient sizes and place on layers of waxed paper in the wide, flat container. Place in freezer overnight. Remove container, discard wax paper and repack frozen herbs into more convenient freezer storage containers.

There are many variations to the above methods of using herbs from a home herb garden, but the first two have been used successfully for centuries (sans rubber bands) and the freezing method is a simple one. Try these before you buy dehydrators or ruin your oven or microwave.

http://herbgardenblog.com Pete Steel has grown herbs for 25 years.
He offers a
free mini course on herb gardening
and herb usage. Herb lovers subscribing to the weekly blogcast get some very unusual bonuses.
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