If you have never considered growing your own herbs then you should. The quality, price, ease of growing, and sheer quantity of herbs you can grow to make it very lucrative for anyone that likes to cook or make their own medicines.
Some herbs are more delicate and harder to preserve. Backdoor Survival has put together this list of methods you can use. This is definitely going to help you get the most out of your herb harvest and save money on all those expensive flavored oils, vinegar, and spice blends you love to throw in the cart.
1. Alcohol extraction
One old trick for getting compounds out of herbs is to soak them in liquor. Everclear or vodka is typically the choice. Even if you don’t normally drink, it is still a method you should consider because it is easy to do and if you are cooking with it then the alcohol is mostly eliminated during the cooking process. Plus you are using so little to start with.
This is not my method of choice for flavor because the alcohol can overwhelm the flavors to me. On the other hand, if you like to make your own extracts for enjoying cocktails then this method is worth considering.
Herbs are often dried but it is important to make sure to do this right or you will discover a moldy mess later on. A food dehydrator is often used by those that want to dry herbs in a hurry but you can also use wire racks or screens with an air space below and set in the sun or bright spot. A fan blowing can help so long as it is not pointed where it can blow herbs around and scatter them.
When herbs are dried completely you should still use an oxygen and moisture absorber in containers they are stored in. If you live in a humid climate and are air drying you may even want to stick herbs in a 150-degree oven for a few minutes to get that last bit out. Really juicy herbs are the most likely to have some residual moisture in the thickest parts.
Dried herbs can be stored in jars with lids or vacuum sealed into mylar bags for very long term storage. Either way, you should make sure to use moisture and oxygen absorbers to ensure quality over time and avoid loss.
3. Frozen With Oil
Best Herbs For Freezing: Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, and Basil are a few of the herbs that freeze really well, keeping for a year in the freezer even!
Not all herbs are going to freeze well. If you are a fan of pesto then you might want to know that Basil is very easy to grow and extremely prolific. This means that instead of paying $5-$8 for a small jar of pesto, you can make your own with ease and either can it or freeze it.
A popular method is to make olive oil and basil pesto and then freeze it in ice cube trays. Pop the pesto cubes out of trays when frozen and place in zip lock freezer bags.
You could also vacuum seal the cubes and stick them back in the freezer if you want to make sure that they are kept as fresh as possible for a year or more.
4. Frozen As Is Or Chopped
To freeze herbs, wash and pat dry them and then lay them out on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer. When frozen, put into freezer bags or an airtight container and keep in the freezer. Herbs can be used as needed but when frozen, they are best used within a few months.
Vacuum sealing after freezing may help extend their useful life as well. Herbs like chives can be chopped before freezing for easier use and faster freezing times. You may want to consider de-stemming herbs like rosemary before freezing to cut down on prep time later and not waste space.
Herbs like Basil can be preserved fresh and help flavor your salt, too. This method requires a jar and layering fresh herb leaves between layers of salt in a jar with lid. You can use whatever type of salt you like except for any that is iodized. The iodized salts will make herb leaves turn dark and unappetizing. This doesn’t mean they have actually gone bad.
You can make some delicious salts for flavoring this way. The salt will hold the flavor of the leaves after you have used up all the fresh leaves so you have the essence of your herbs throughout the year. This method is one that a lot of people don’t know about even though it is so easy to do.
Dried mushrooms like porcini or truffles can also be added in layers to further enhance the flavor of your salts or you can add them in after the fresh leaves are used up if you don’t want flavors to mingle too much on the fresh leaves.
Herbed vinegars make great bases for sauces, salad dressings, and more. Using high quality apple cider vinegars is going to offer the best flavor and nutritional benefits. Try to get apple cider vinegar that has “The Mother” in it such as Bragg’s or any other organic brand. There are a lot of articles on the benefits of this style of vinegar when it comes to your overall health and wellbeing. White wine vinegar is a good choice for really delicately flavored herbs if you are worried about apple cider vinegar being too overpowering.
To do this, simply stuff herbs into bottles and pour vinegar over them. Make sure to use non metal closures for bottles or jars because vinegar will quickly corrode them. You need about ½ cup of dried herbs per 2 cups of vinegar but it is not an exact science so a little more or less is not going to be harmful so long as herbs are totally submerged in vinegar.
7. Herbed Butter
It is hard to beat herbed butter on fresh baked bread, potatoes, or veggie dishes. One way to do it is to melt butter and put in chopped herbs. You can simmer for a minute on very low heat to incorporate flavor but be very careful to not scorch it. Pour into molds, dish, etc and you can then keep in fridge for months or even freeze for long term storage and cooking needs.
These types of butters are great to have on hand for the holidays or dinner parties. A good loaf of fresh bread and this and you have something that family and friends won’t forget!
8. Herbed Oils
You can extract herbs into olive oils or similar by adding dried herbs. Use the same guideline as with vinegar and add about ½ a cup dried herbs to 2 cups of oil. The longer the herbs mingle in the oil the stronger the flavor will be. If you put whole branches of rosemary that are dried this can look really pretty.
Shopping List for Herb Preservation
This is a list of a variety of items that come in handy. While you might not need them all for the methods you want to use, it is definitely true that they are items that have a lot of uses in the prepper pantry so they are worth picking up over time.
- Food dehydrator
- Screens for stacking for air drying
- Jars and lids. Remember to use plastic lids for vinegar-based preservation
- Oxygen Absorbers
- Moisture Absorbers
- Mylar bags in various sizes
- Vacuum Sealer
- Ice cube trays
- Freezer bags or plastic tubs
- Olive, grape seed, sunflower, or other quality oils
- Good knife for chopping herbs
Don’t Get Too Far Ahead Of Yourself
Make sure to just pick the herbs that you want to go ahead and preserve. This means making sure you have space and supplies you need. The fresher herbs are when the process of preservation is started the better off you are.
Making Your Own Dried Mixes
Seasoning blends in the grocery store can be pretty expensive. If you grow your own herbs you can dry them and make custom spice blends. If you add at least ¼ of the volume of salt, this can also help preserve the rest of the herbs over time. It can be fun to try out what blends work best for you. As you blend you may want to keep track with a notebook of the amounts or volumes of each thing you put in so you can fine tune your blends over time.
Drying herbs and making blends and salts make great gifts for holidays, birthdays, housewarmings, or just because. Kitchen gifts are something everyone can use. Spices are fabulous to have even if a friend or family member doesn’t cook that much. Adding a bit of extra flavor to anything is something special.
A Note On Dehydrators
If you are mostly concerned with drying herbs than the cheapest dehydrator out there will probably work just fine. Herbs are really easy to dry so don’t think you need to spend hundreds on a fancy dehydrator if herbs are what you are mostly sticking to.
Getting Started Growing Herbs: You Don’t Need A Bunch of Space
A lot of herbs grow just fine in pots or window boxes so those living in apartments even can enjoy growing some culinary herbs. All you need is some starter plants or seeds, pots, and potting mix to get started. If you are new to gardening or just want a head starts I recommend getting plants. You don’t have to get really big ones but a plant in a 4 inch pot or larger puts you ahead of the game. Windowsills are good places to grow herbs or you can even use hanging baskets. Placing pots on either side of entry way stairs can look really nice and be space efficient. If you have a balcony or patio area then you have a lot more room than you think to get started growing.
A good book on container gardening can help inspire you and beautify your surroundings. Herbs are also very common choices for those that are trying to landscape with edibles. Keep in mind that some herbs like to spread more than others. That small looking packet of basil seeds may soon have you giving it away like mad or spending some major time making pesto or freezing leaves!
Putting Back Herbs Without Growing
If you know some avid gardeners you may be able to purchase fresh herbs at a good price. If anyone offers you their excess then take advantage of it. Everyone can freeze or air dry or use the salt method so there is no excuse to not take advantage of a surplus.
Making The Most Of Your Time and Money
When it comes to growing herbs at home, you should consider the ones you like the best and their cost at the grocery store. If you have to pick and choose what to plant, go with the varieties that are hardest on your grocery budget first and then fill in space with the rest. Saffron, for example, is extremely expensive but you can plant some Saffron bulbs and possibly have an excess to sell.
Don’t Forget To Label
In a preserved state it might be hard to tell what an herb is. This is especially true in frozen herbs or products that contain herbs like butter, oils, vinegar, and custom blends. Adding a date so you can tell how long you have had them is another thing that can be very helpful and reduce waste over the years.
What is your favorite recipe for preserving herbs?
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