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Preserving Herbs From Your Home Herb Garden

Herbs are tremendously useful in so many ways. Your home herb garden has been planted, watered, taken care of, and you’ve watched the plants grow and thrive. Now it’s time to learn how to use those wonderful herbs and it requires a little bit of work.

The first step in using the results of your garden is to harvest them. Harvesting the herb does not mean removing the entire plant and timing is a very important element. The herb’s essential oils can be dispersed by the wind and the heat, and on extremely wet days, fewer oils are produced by the plants. The best time to harvest your herbs is during midsummer, on a calm and dry morning. Harvest them right before the flowers open in the morning and just after the dew has dried from the leaves. Take only a certain amount of growth and be careful not to take more than a third of the herb’s foliage at one time, since the plant will need the remaining foliage to continue to grow well. Also inspect the herb for any damaged leaves or insects before harvesting it.

Using fresh herbs right out of your garden is a delight. Make sure to clean the herbs before using them fresh in recipes. To clean fresh herbs, fill a bowl with cool water and place the herbs in the bowl. For a larger quantity, use the cleaned kitchen sink. Add about two tablespoons of salt to the water. Any insects present on the herbs will be driven away by the salt in the water, without damaging the plant. To dry the herbs, remove them from the water and place in a salad spinner for quick drying.

Of course, herbs don’t have to be used at the time they are picked. They can be preserved for later use in three ways by: drying, freezing, or preserving them in salt or vinegar.

Drying herbs: remove any foliage near the base and bundle six to twelve stems together, securing the bundle with a string. Hang the bundle upside down in a cool place and away from sunlight. Some herbs lend themselves to drying in individual leaves. To dry individual leaves, place them on a rack or screen. To dry the leaves properly, it’s important to remember to turn them often. A few more automated ways of drying leaves, though also less satisfactory, are appliances like dehydrators, ovens or microwave ovens.

Another fairly simple way to preserve herbs for later use is freezing them. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with wax paper. Cut the herbs into quarter inch pieces and place them on the baking sheet in the freezer. Once the herbs are frozen, remove them from the baking sheet and place them together in a bag. Store the bag in the freezer until needed.

Herbs can also be preserved herbs in a medium such as salt or vinegar. For example, to preserve chopped basil, mint, or tarragon, cover the herbs with vinegar and they be will be available to use for several months. Making a flavored salt is a great way to use herbs. Alternate layers of fresh herbs and salt on a flat surface. When the herbs are completely dry, separate them from the flavored salt and store them in an airtight container.

Each herb can have its own set of instructions on how to use, harvest, and preserve. To get the most out of your home herb garden, make sure to research each type of herb and the best ways to use it.