Harvest season is upon us! In most parts of the US, tomatoes, cucumbers and squash are abundant and gardeners are enjoying the (literal) fruits of their labors. If your garden is like mine, you have had to prune your herbs more than once already this season. Our penchant for fresh mojitos and mint tea just does not keep up with the mint plant's growth rate. The good news is that there are several ways to preserve those fresh summer herbs for the fall and winter ahead.
The most obvious choice is to dry the herbs and store them in your spice rack. The general rule of thumb is, if a recipe calls for fresh herbs, divide that by 3 if you are using dried herbs.
Drying herbs is simple and can be done several ways. The easiest is to tie the stems and hang them upside down. We recommend tying a paper bag around the outside and poking some holes a the top. This will reduce the mess. A faster option for those herbs with more moisture (basil, mint etc.) is to dry them in a low oven. Set the oven at 180 degrees and bake for 2-4 hours. Finally, if you have access to one, a food dehydrator will be your fastest option.
When you are cutting herbs to dry, choose the healthiest stems and remove any damaged leaves. If there is visible dirt, rinse them using as little water as possible and then dry as much as possible. Before packing your herbs in your spice jars, be sure they they are quite dry-- they should crumble when you touch them. If there is moisture left in the herbs, continue drying them to avoid mildew.
My personal favorite method for preserving herbs is as a pesto. This helps preserve the fresh summer flavor better than drying. At my house, we have a whole basil garden dedicated to winter pesto. The classic pesto contains basil, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and parmesan cheese. However, pestos can be made with a variety of other herbs, my favorite being mint pesto.
I generally package pesto in pint jars and freeze. It can also be canned, but I find that freezing it better preserves the flavor. If you prefer, you can simply grind up any fresh herb and freeze in an ice cube tray for use in the winter.
Finally, a beautiful way to use those herb trimmings is as part of an herb wreath or swag. Start with a wreath form and use floral wire to attach herbs. For a more traditional look, keep like herbs together. For a more relaxed look, intersperse various herbs throughout the wreath.