No fall can pass by without preserving activities in the kitchen or garden. Here is our choice of best ones:
- Preserving herbs in salt
This is the simplest known method of conservation: you just make alternating layers in a jar of herbs and coarse salt. Put a thicker layer of salt at the bottom of your jar and at the top, but between each two layers of herbs, you just need enough to cover the leaves of the herbs you are using. You can store the jars of salt-preserved herbs in the refrigerator, and use both the herbs and the salt in different recipes.
After the herbs have infused in the salt for a while, you could also pulverize them together and use them as seasoning. This is true of the herbal sugars, as well: feel free to blend them up to make sprinkling into recipes easier.
As the summer begins to draw to its close, there are still a lot of beautiful herbs in everyone’s garden. So, you can’t possibly use them all in recipes before they become victims of the first frost.
Well, you could also freeze some of your herbs, or you could tie them in bunches and hang them to dry.
- Preserving herbs in oil
Here is an herbal oil made with calendula (marigold) flowers (about 8 in this small 8 oz. jar have been used), the peeled cloves from 1 head of garlic, 1-2 handfuls of fresh basil, and a small hot pepper (simply omit it if you don’t want your herbal oil to be spicy hot) steeped in olive oil. We are sure you will love this oil and you will keep making it many times once you taste it. You can also add a few sun-dried tomatoes to give it some extra flavor.
To reduce the risk of any mold forming in your oil, make sure your glass jar is very dry before you fill it with your herbs. The herbs you use also need to be very dry: moisture makes it more likely that mold will apear. It is also important to make sure your herbs are completely topped by the oil: if not, some mold may form on any herb exposed at the top.
Allow to sit for up to 6 week to infuse well. After this period, strain out the herbs and transfer your oil to a clean, dry jar. Herbal oils are wonderful in salad dressings, as well as drizzled over pasta, grains or veggies.
*Note that according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, “Herbs and oils are both low-acid and together could support the growth of the disease-causing Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Oils may be flavored with herbs if they are made up for fresh use, stored in the refrigerator and used within 2 to 3 days. Fresh herbs must be washed well and dried completely before storing in the oil.”
We personally have never had a problem preserving herbs in oil in the way described above, but it’s important to keep this warning in mind: Clostridium botulinum is nothing to fool around with!
- Preserving herbs in vinegar
Preserving herbs in vinegar is another great way to save them as long as possible. You can easily make several batches of herbal vinegars every summer. Here is the recipe for strawberry-lemon balm vinegar we made several weeks ago:
To make it, combine 2 cups of clean, dry, organic strawberries freshly picked from your garden with 2 cups of lemon balm leaves in a 1 quart jar, and then fill the jar with apple-cider vinegar (it is best to use organic unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, but any kind will do the job).
Besides being easy to prepare and surprisingly tasty, herbal vinegars are also quite nutritious since vinegar extracts minerals, including calcium, magnesium and iron, from the plants you use to make your vinegar preserve.
When you make herbal vinegar, there is a very small chance of contamination: vinegar is a great preservative and the acidity keeps at bay any potentially dangerous bacteria. We like to use plastic lids when making herbal vinegars (vinegar can eat away at the underside of the metal ones). If you don’t have a plastic lid, just put a piece of plastic wrap under your metal lid before screwing it on.
After leaving your herbal vinegar 4-6 weeks to chill out in a dark place, strain out the herbs (and whatever else you have put in there (in this case strawberries which you can eat up) and pour the vinegar back into a glass jar where it will keep pretty much indefinitely (or at least for a year or two). Use anywhere you would use vinegar: in soups, salad dressings, over cooked greens, etc.
- Preserving herbs in sugar
This is so good that we have had rosemary sugar on our cupboard shelf for years. It is delicious when a teaspoon or so is added to batches of homemade tomato sauce as well as meat stews. We recently made some with basil in addition to rosemary.
Other suitable herbs that can be used to make herbal sugars are: mint, thyme and sage, as well as lavender. Adding a vanilla bean to a jar of sugar is also a great idea (though we doubt very much you have vanilla beans in your garden). For a subtle herbal touch, you can add just a few sprigs of your preferred herb to a jar containing 2-4 cups of (preferably organic) sugar. Or, if you are looking for more herbal flavor, you can use more of the herbs and bruise and chop them before adding to the sugar. These sugars last for a long time as well, especially if you are like us and you don’t use sugar abundantly.
Sugars made with sweet herbs and edible flowers are also lovely- here is a sugar we made from finely chopped lavender leaves. Just like vanilla sugar, it will be nice in hot cups of tea, or perhaps use it to flavor winter porridge, or mix it into plain yogurt. All is just great!
- Preserving herbs in honey
We consider honey the most natural and healthiest preservative of all. It is great for making tasty preparations that can be used in cooking or as powerful herbal remedies. We keep a large jar of garlic cloves infused in honey in the refrigerator all winter long. If you feel like you are coming down with a cold or flu, try to eat a clove every hour until you are feeling real better.
You may also like to preserve herbs such as lemon balm and anise hyssop in honey. Above you see herbal honey that we made by combining these 2 herbs with some ginger.
To make it, chop all the herbs fine, placed them in a jar, and then fill it to the top brim with honey (preferably use honey that is raw and local, but any kind is fine). Like the other herbal preparations, you should allow your herbal honey to infuse for 6 weeks (or more if needed) before you start using it. Herbal honeys can be used for their yummy flavor on toasted slices of bread, in tea, or they can be taken by the spoonful as medicines for sore throat and many other ailments that come along with the winter season.
Please share these classic ways of preserving herbs with your friend and family.