Preserving Fresh Herbs
Answered by: Yvonne Tremblay
Question from: Gail Lary
Posted on: September 8, 2003

I have access to many herbs such as basil, thyme, cilantro, and others. Could you please tell me the best way to preserve them for winter use?

Herbs can be preserved in various ways, drying, freezing, in butters, infused in vinegars and oils, mustards, honey, etc. Basil I prefer to freeze, usually as a pesto. It can be pureed (I use a food processor) as a traditional pesto with garlic, pine nuts and olive oil and frozen. I stir in the Parmesan cheese after thawing for use. Or, you may also process with oil alone and freeze.

Chop leaves of herbs such as basil, cilantro (fresh coriander), parsley, dill, marjoram, tarragon, chives and chervil, place in ice cube trays, cover with water and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to freezer bag or container, label and store in freezer up to 6 months. You may also freeze these finely chopped herbs in small plastic freezer containers or glass jars.

Herbs that dry well, I prefer to dry. These include sage, savory, rosemary, tarragon, thyme, mint, lavender and oregano. You can dry prepared herbs (rinsed and spun dry in a salad spinner or blotted with paper towel) in a paper bag that holes have been poked into for ventilation. Place bag in dry place or cupboard.

As long as you do not overheat them, herbs can also be dried effectively and quickly in the microwave. To microwave dry: Spread herbs (sprigs if leaves are small, such as thyme, tarragon, otherwise remove leaves from stems such as sage) on a layer of 3 sheet of good quality paper towel. Cover with another layer of 2 sheets. Microwave on high for one or two minutes. (Reduce time for high wattage microwaves.) Remove, uncover and check to determine crispness. Move some herbs from the centre to the edges and edges to the centre. If leaves are not crisp, return to oven. Carefully flip paper towel over. The damp paper towel from the bottom will now be on top. Rotate paper towel 90 degrees if your microwaves does not have turntable. Microwave an additional minute or until leaves are dry and very crisp. Remove leaves from stems, if necessary, and store in a covered jar away from heat and light. Do not crush leaves until ready to use. Stored properly, dried herbs should stay fragrant and flavourful until the next season. When dried herbs no longer have a distinct herb scent, they likely will not have much flavour either. I do not dry parsley, chives, chervil and cilantro as they do retain their flavour well. Drying enhances the flavour of oregano.

For more information on drying and freezing herbs as well as how to make herb vinegars, oils, butters, mustards, honey, pesto, etc., and for amazing recipes, see preview of my book "Thyme in the Kitchen – Cooking with Fresh Herbs" at www.yvonnetremblay.com. You can order the book at Richters.

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