If you are looking to add to the flavor of your winter meals such as soup, crockpot meals, and stews, then you need to think about freezing your herbs in cubes as a viable option to saving some of your homegrown herbs to add to your winter meals.
In order for you to do this, you are going to need a few simple freezer bags or kitchen storage containers, labels, marker pen, ice-cube trays, a chopping board and of course your wonderful homegrown herbs. Now to use this method try to pack in each cube how much you think you would use that herb in an average recipe. For example, say you were freezing some basil. You may use one teaspoon full in your chicken soup recipe. Gather your fresh basil and wash it then chop it up on your cutting board, and then pack it by the teaspoonful into an ice-cube tray, fill the whole tray. Add enough water or oil to cover your herbs, then put it into the freezer. One the cubes have frozen, take them out and put them into a freezer bag. Label the bag using the marker pen so you know exactly what herb is in that particular bag. You can use this easy process for all of your herbs that you would add to your soups, stews, casseroles etc. For those that love basil pesto, this method works great for that. You can cut your basil back a couple of times during the summer and make yourself a nice batch of pesto. Below is my recipe for basil pesto. Once you have made the pesto you can fill the ice-cube trays with pesto. Then in the winter months, you can pull some pesto cubes out and throw them into your spaghetti sauce and add a wonderful flavor to your sauce.
Ingredients: half a cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted one cup of parmesan cheese, freshly grated three-quarters of a cup of almond oil two teaspoons of garlic, minced four cups of basil leaves, packed
Directions: Blend all of the ingredients in your food processor until they are almost a smooth consistency. Use the pesto right away and save some for the winter months. Freeze it in ice-cube trays. Once it is frozen then store the cubes in a freezer bag and use as needed. For things such as homemade pizza and spaghetti sauce.
You can also put herbs such as parsley, chives or rosemary into freezer bags. You may decide to chop them up first or place them whole into bags. You will appreciate the treat in the middle of winter on having the yummy flavors that herbs will add to your winter meals. Of course you may also choose to grow your herbs indoors so that you will have fresh herbs throughout the winter months. But keep in mind that herbs that are grown indoors to not have the same full-flavor as herbs that are grown outdoors will have.
You can also choose to dry your own herbs in your home, they have much more flavor to them than the ones that you will buy in a store. Using the old fashioned was of drying your herbs is the best way for you to ensure that you are going to have a successful product. I am sure that you must have seen herbs hanging from the rafters of homes or pictures of bundles of drying herbs. You will find by air drying your herbs you will be able to enjoy them with ease.
Just after the dew has gone from your plants and before the sun has warmed up your herbal plants begin to gather your herbs in the early morning. It is best to harvest herbs in the bud stage at least for many herbs—this is just before they come into full flower. One exception of this would be lavender. When you are cutting your herbs leave on fairly long stems. Now take your herbs and rinse them in cool water to clean them. Gently dry them with a towel—you do not want to bruise the leaves of your herbs so it is important that you are gentle during this process. Then putting them in a bundle you can then hang them to dry. Gather about six to eight stems of your herbs together and tie them in a bundle using a string. Place them into a brown paper bag with the stems protruding out through the opening hole of the bag. You can then hang them up in a dark place, the bag will help to keep dust off of the herbs and will keep out the light. Any place in your home that is well-ventilated and is dark or shaded is good for drying herbs. Another method you may choose to use is to lay a single layer of herb sprigs onto a screen and then cover them with paper towels to keep the dust off of them. Then take this and place it in a warm spot. This method works well with herbs that have short stems. You can place them in your attic or on your fridge top or somewhere shady outside. It will take anywhere from one to three weeks for your herbs to air-dry. Sage that is light and fleshy can take up to three weeks to dry whereas a herb such as a thyme takes only about one week to air-dry. Once your herbs are completely dry then separate the stems from the leaves by gently crumbling them into a light-proof container. If you are growing herbs such as caraway, coriander, fennel, or dill for their seeds then snip off their heads once they have ripened and dried. Now you can separate the seeds from the stems and place them in a sieve or in a cheesecloth bag. Dip your seeds into boiling water to kill any possible insects pests or seeds. Then spread your seeds on a screen covered with paper towel and allow them to dry for about a week in the sun.
You will find that this method works best on herbs that have large leaves such as sage. After you have finished washing and drying your herbs, remove the leaves from the stems and sprigs. Next spread them on a baking tray, in a single layer so they can dry evenly. Put your oven on the lowest heat setting, place them on the lowest rack in your oven. Turn your herbs every 30 minutes, until they are dried, this process could take anywhere from three to five hours to complete. Your herbs at the end of the process should feel brittle and crumble when you touch them. Allow your dried herbs to cool, and then gently crush the leaves. Store your dried herbs in light-proof containers. Your oven may have a dehydrating setting that will help to speed up the drying time process considerably. A great appliance to have is a dehydrator—if you are drying things such as herbs, fruits, and veggies.
You may find that this is the easiest method for drying your herbs since you will get your results within minutes. Wash and dry your herbs just as you would with oven drying. Spread your leaves over three levels of paper towels (not the kind that is recycled) and cover with another layer of paper towel on top. Give your herbs about 30 seconds, then turn-keep repeating until your herbs are nice and brittle. Make sure not to burn them, in the microwave they should only take about two or three minutes to dry. Once they have been dried then store your herbs in storage containers that exclude the light. It is a good idea to label your jars so you know exactly what herb is in what jar. When it comes to using microwaves many people are against using them. People often complain that when using a microwave to prepare foods it can lower the quality of the foods. I know from my own personal experience my husband does not like when I cook foods using the microwave because he believes foods taste better when cooked using the standard oven. I guess it boils down to personal taste and preference. This will be for you to decide when you begin the process of preserving your own homegrown herbs.
Usually, it is found that in general herbs that are larger, softer, or have fleshier leaves don't air dry as well (or as quickly) as other smaller less fleshy leaves will. So perhaps when you are drying larger leaves you should consider using a dehydrator or your standard oven. Some herbs such as chives, cilantro, basil, and parsley do not retain their best flavor when dried, so freezing would be the best method for these herbs. Herbs that do dry well are sage, tarragon, dill, oregano, rosemary, and thyme, and still retaining great flavor.
When it comes to storing all of your herbs you should find a cool dark place to store them in airtight containers. You can keep your homegrown herbs that have been harvested and stored properly full of flavor and remain fragrant too for a long time. If you have herbs that have no scent left to them they will have little to no flavor, these I would suggest tossing into your compost.