As the days shorten and the temperature cools, my herbs are constantly being cut back in the hopes that I can keep them going just a little bit longer. I’m drying and freezing as fast as I can. Basil is being churned into pesto almost daily. Lavender and russian sage transformed into potpourri and others are bundled waiting to add rich aromas to an open fire this winter. I love herbs more then anything else I grow.
This spring I claimed part of the small barn as my potting shed. It is home to my ever growing collection of pots, baskets, seeds and bird nests. It also makes a great place to dry my herbs. It is warm, dry, dark and it has great ventilation.
I find mid morning is the best time to head out to the garden to harvest my herbs. This way any moisture on them from the night before has had a chance to dry. Then I just cut them back and tie them together in small bunches with twine or string. I hang them, stems upright, from the rafters in my potting shed until the leaves are dry and crumbly.
Next I remove the leaves from the stems and place them into labeled airtight glass jars away from sunlight where they will keep fresh and fragrant for up to a year.
I’m sure I will remember what is in those jars ~ Not
Freezing is also another good way to save herbs. It retains the color and flavor of the more delicate types like basil, chives and tarragon and is super easy to do. I just chop them up, pack them into a ice-cube tray, fill each “cube” with a good quality olive oil and freeze. When they are frozen I just pop them out and put them into a labeled plastic bag or container.
One of my absolute, most favorite ways to use herbs is preserved in a bottle of oil or vinegar. They are a fun and easy way to save your herbs and they make great gifts. You can buy all kinds of pretty glass bottles from places like the dollar store, flea markets or the internet.
Always use the best olive oil or vinegar you can find. For herb-flavored vinegar my favorite kind to use is white wine vinegar but you can also use red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Make sure it is at least 5% acidity and save the white distilled vinegar for cleaning the kitchen and washing your windows. Fill your bottle with herbs, using a bamboo skewer to push them all the way down and then just cover them with your vinegar of choice. Close the bottle with a cork or a pouring spout and let it sit for 24 hours. The herbs will soak up some of that vinegar so you may have to add a little bit more. Then just keep it away from the sun and it’s good to go. The flavor intensifies as it ages but you can start to use it right away. I keep refilling my bottle with vinegar and it lasts for about 6-8 months. Just make sure to keep those herbs covered.
My favorite combos:
- Rosemary, Rosemary, Rosemary <3
- Tarragon and garlic
- Basil, garlic and dried red peppers
- Lemon thyme and sage
Herb-infused olive oil is delicious for making salad dressings, perking up a plate of pasta or my personal favorite – dipping some warm crusty bread into. Again here you want to always use the best and freshest ingredients you can find. Wash and dry your herbs well. Make sure they are really dry because you don’t want any bacteria growing on them and getting into that oil. Also you need a bottle with a good seal. Canning jars work well or ones with a rubber stopper. Gently bruise your herbs to release some of their natural oils and put them into your jars. Cover them with olive oil, seal the bottle and store it in a cool dark place for 1-2 weeks before you use it. With any kind of infused oil you have to be aware of Botulism. They will generally keep for up to one month or a bit longer if you refrigerate them. If the ingredients in the olive oil start to show any signs of being spoiled throw it away.
- Rosemary, Rosemary, Rosemary ( can you tell I love rosemary?)
- Dried red chili peppers
Herb bundles are super duper easy to make. You just have to use a strong sturdy herb like… you guessed it, Rosemary! Lavender works great for this too. Just cut them all the way down to the ground and bundle them together and tie in the middle with twine. Store them with your logs by your fireplace and throw them into the fire this winter. They will make the room smell heavenly!
There are so many ways to use herbs. Try throwing a handful of lavender into your bath water. Its calming properties will help to relax you. Can’t sleep? Try chamomile tea. Have a sore throat or cold? Drink some peppermint tea! Make a sachet. Just fill a small bag with dried lavender, russian sage or spearmint. Throw it into your dryer or into your drawers to freshen your clothes. Potpourri is a great and easy way to make your home or your chicken coop smell great. Mix together any combination of dried herbs, fruits, flowers and even pinecones.
Try simmering a pot of cinnamon, cloves, sage and orange or lemon rinds on your stovetop to scent your whole house. So hurry up and gather together your herbs before the season ends. Then when you are all done pour yourself some chamomile tea, fill your bath with lavender and relax. You deserve it.