An Herbal Column By– Miss Jess

The change of seasons is briskly upon us. Isn’t it lovely especially this time of year?  As fall approaches we need to turn our attentions from planting to harvesting our gardens of herbs.  There are several ways to do just that and make the best use of our plants.  Some can be frozen and some are better dried.
     The most important thing in properly drying herbs is to provide the right drying environment.  Make sure that there is adequate air flow around the plant and that there is low light.  This is especially important for floral parts of a plant when preserving color. Depending on the plant, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to completely dry.  Once it is, store in an airtight container, glass is best because the herbs in a plastic container absorb the odors from a plastic and always keep them out of light once dry.
     Those herbs that get dried can be done one of two ways depending on the plant itself.  Herbs that have a hardy stem can best be dried upside down.  Plants like lavender, yarrow, thistle and chamomile are better for this method.  Cut the stems long enough to make a bundle with a rubber band. Hang them with a clothespin on a drying rack. Usually it is good to check them in two weeks or so. For long stems allow for storage in a plastic bag or box.

     The other way to dry herbs is on a flat screen like surface. This method can be used for plants that are harvested for only their leaves. Plants like oregano and thyme, which have small leaves and fine stems, can benefit from this type of drying. Other herbs, mainly those used for cooking are good for freezing.  This is important when  color and texture are big factors in a dish.   Before freezing make sure the leaves are clean and dry.  Leaves can be frozen whole or chopped.  Chopped herbs can be frozen in a container or in an ice cube tray.  Fill the cups of the tray half full of the herb and top off with water.  Then when it comes time to thaw, just take out as many as needed. Pesto is not the same if you use dried basil.  It has a better flavor if made with basil that is fresh but, if there is no fresh in the kitchen, the next best thing is to pull out some frozen leaves and proceed with the recipe. Please note, frozen herbs can darken over  time.  They will taste fresh, but may not look quite the same. Remember, fall doesn’t have to be an end to gardening.  It is a time to enjoy what we have worked so hard to grow and Mother Nature has nurtured all summer long.  With these preservation tips you can enjoy your herbs well into the winter and beyond

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