Healthy, homegrown herbs

Herbs can add great flavors to foods, but you'll need to preserve and prepare them safely to enjoy them outside of the typical growing season.

The use of herbs in cooking can add great flavors without the extra salt, fat and sugar. Many herbs possess a variety of nutritive and antioxidant properties. Michigan grown herbs are available between April and October. Due to the short shelf life of fresh herbs and possibly an overabundance at harvest time, there are several preservation methods that can prolong their quality and safety.

Dried herbs can last up to one year when stored in a cool, dry location. Microwaving herbs can be done by placing the herbs between single layers of paper towel. Microwave for up to 4 minutes, turning them over and checking for doneness every 30 seconds. The paper towels need to be replaced once they are too moist. The herbs are safely dried when they are crisp and break easily.

There are several methods of air-drying herbs: bundling whole plants, sprigs or seed heads with string and hanging them upside down or surrounding them with paper bag that has the bottom cut out to keep them out of the light and to keep them free of dust, in a warm (68 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) well ventilated, dry, dark place. Also, leaves and seeds can be placed in a single layer on a wire screen, slatted tray or muslin fabric. They will need to be turned often for even drying. Air-drying can take two weeks or more for herbs to be crisp and easily broken.

Rinsed herb sprigs, whole leaves or leaves cut or torn can be put in freezer containers or bags and stored in the freezer. They can also be placed in a single layer on a cookie sheet and then frozen to avoid clumps and provide easier removal of quantities for cooking. Blanching herbs can retain color, but may sacrifice flavor. To blanch herbs, place in a colander and pour boiling water over them for about one second. Basil is one herb that will darken if not blanched prior to freezing. Frozen herbs can last up to 6 months to one year. The texture of frozen herbs may be softer than freshly harvested.

Growing and preserving fresh herbs can add exciting and different flavors to recipes all year around. Michigan State University Extension recommends rinsing all freshly picked herbs in cold water and patting dry. Herbs intended for freezing or drying should be preserved as soon as possible after picking for the best flavor and color. Remember to label and date the container of herbs.

There is much more information available on Healthy, Homegrown Herbs at the Grow It, Cook It, Eat It series of workshop being held on August 24, 2017 at the Ingham County Fairgrounds, 700 E. Ash Street, Mason, Michigan 48854 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. The cost for the workshop is $20.00 and includes handouts, recipes and sampling foods prepared in class with herbs. Register for the class today at https://events.anr.msu.edu/growitcookteatitherbs2017/.

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