Storing Herbs

You will certainly be using your herbs fresh from the garden, but it is also useful to preserve them so you can use them throughout the year.

Freezing herbs

Soft-leaved herbs are better frozen than dried because their high water content makes them slow to dry. So basil, chives, coriander, lemon balm, mint, parsley and tarragon are all candidates for the freezer, but more robust herbs, like rosemary, sage and thyme, are also fine.

  • Wash the herbs and pat dry.
  • Strip the leaves from any woody stalks, if necessary.
  • You can leave sprigs whole.
  • Alternatively, put them in a cup and snip them with scissors until finely chopped.
  • Pack chopped herbs in small rigid containers and put sprigs in polythene bags. Remove the air, seal, label and freeze.

Frozen herbs will keep their flavour for about six months and can be used from frozen in the same proportion as fresh herbs. They are not suitable for garnishing as they will appear wet and limp when thawed.

Drying herbs

To ensure they contain the maximum essential oils, pick your herbs for drying just before they come into flower on a warm dry day but before the sun has really warmed the leaves.

  • Discard any damaged leaves.
  • Tie in small bunches by the stems.
  • Blanch in boiling water for a few seconds, shake off excess water and pat dry on a tea towel or kitchen roll.
  • Wrap loosely in muslin and hang up to dry in a warm place, such as in the kitchen or airing cupboard.
  • They may take anything from a few hours to several days to dry but you will know they are ready when the leaves are brittle and large stems crack rather than bend.

Remember that drying concentrates the flavour so use sparingly as required. You can leave the sprigs hanging but they are best kept in a dark place, or r you can crush them (see below).

Oven-drying herbs

You can oven-dry large-leaved herbs, such as mint or sage.

  • Leave in sprigs or strip off the leaves.
  • Tie in muslin and blanch in boiling water for 1 minute.
  • Shake off the excess moisture and spread the leaves or sprigs on trays.
  • Place in the oven on the lowest possible temperature (ideally about 55°C/130°F for about an hour until brittle, turning half way through.
  • Crush the herbs with a rolling pin, discarding any thick stalks.
  • Store in the dark in small airtight containers, well-filled to preserve the flavour.

Microwave-drying herbs
This is a quick and easy method but do pay attention all the time and do not leave the microwave unattended.

  • Lay two sheets of kitchen paper r in the microwave, cover with a layer of herb sprigs, then another layer of paper.
  • Microwave on high for 1minute, then continue in 30-second bursts, moving the herbs around and checking dryness frequently. This should take about three minutes.

Bouquets garnis
Have your own fragrant bouquet garnis ready for use in soups and casseroles.

  • Tie together a twig of bay leaf, a sprig of parsley, a sprig of thyme and a sprig of rosemary.
  • Hang them to dry in the kitchen.
  • Then store in a dark, airtight container.

Remove from the cooked dish before serving.