Preserving contemporary backyard herbs by drying, freezing them, or giving artistic presents – Press Enterprise
For the inexperienced (and experienced) gardener, fresh herbs are a worthy addition to a vegetable garden. Most of them are well adapted to the Mediterranean climate of Southern California and can become quite productive towards the end of summer. So what can you do with a basil plant that is four feet tall? How can you save those delicate, fragrant cilantro leaves before the plant bursts and the taste goes away?
Dehydration is a great option for many herbs, such as basil, coriander, parsley, tarragon, oregano, and sage. Rosemary can be dried, but in the end it has the texture of old Christmas tree needles. Herbs are best when harvested when the plant is at its healthiest and before shooting. Once a plant begins to flower, the sugars and aromatic compounds in the leaves migrate to the flowers to provide energy for seed production.
After cutting, you should carefully examine each leaf for “hitchhikers” before washing it thoroughly in fresh water. Shake off the excess water and place in a dehydrator or oven to dry. Herbs should be dried until crispy, then packaged and frozen. I recommend freezing to preserve the flavor and kill undetected insect eggs.
Pesto can be made from basil, sage, coriander, rosemary, thyme, dill, and parsley. Some of the stronger, more resinous herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme) should be combined with parsley in a ratio of 1: 5 to avoid bitter substances in the end product. Pine nuts can be substituted for pistachios, almonds, or walnuts in any pesto recipe. Coriander pesto is especially tasty when a finely diced jalapeño is put in the blender / food processor. Since the pesto goes in the freezer, recipes can safely be modified to suit your taste. Pesto can be frozen in ice cube trays for later use. Once it’s frozen solid, put the cubes from the tray in an airtight bag to protect it from freezer burn.
Fresh herbs can be chopped and mixed with butter, oil, or water and frozen in ice cube trays.
Label all herbal creations before putting them in the freezer. I have learned from experience that it is very difficult to distinguish one type of herb from another when they are frozen.
Herbal vinegars are a particularly popular gift item. A sprig of freshly washed and dried basil, rosemary, tarragon, sage or thyme in a decorative bottle of white or red wine vinegar is an attractive gift. Be especially careful to inspect your herb sprig – you don’t want to see a tiny worm at the bottom of your bottle of flavored vinegar, especially if you give it to someone as a gift! Vinegar flavored with herbs, fruits or garlic can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Flavored oils can be made in a similar way, but must be refrigerated and consumed within 4 days. The acid and oxygen poor environment in the oil is ideal for growing C. botulinum, the bacteria that cause botulism, a deadly form of food poisoning.
For more information on flavored vinegars and oils, visit http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09340.html
Have any questions? Send an email to [email protected]
Looking for more gardening tips? How to contact the Master Gardener program in your area.
Los Angeles District
[email protected]; 626-586-1988; http://celosangeles.ucanr.edu/UC_Master_Gardener_Program/
[email protected]; 949-809-9760; http://mgorange.ucanr.edu/
[email protected]; 951-683-6491 ext. 231; https://ucanr.edu/sites/RiversideMG/
San Bernardino County
[email protected]; 909-387-2182; http://mgsb.ucanr.edu/