Preserving herbs is easy

Enjoy home-grown herbs from the summer months all year long by dehydrating your fresh herbs.

Growing and harvesting your own herbs is an economical way to spice up your food. Herbs enhance the flavor of food without adding extra sodium. After you grow them, preserving them for later is a great way to spread the quality of home grown foods throughout the year. The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides excellent resources for preserving all types of food.

Herbs are ready to be harvested when the flower buds appear, but before they are open. The leaves contain the maximum amount of flavor while yielding the highest quality product. Herbs should be harvested prior to the bursting bud stage. Gather the herbs in the morning before the sun is too hot and after the morning dew has evaporated. Rinse the herbs in cool water. Discard all leaves that are not of ideal quality: those that appear to be bruised or damaged by insects.

Drying herbs is the easiest way to preserve herbs. Warm temperatures and air circulation are needed to effectively dry the herbs. A dehydrator is an option for tender leaf herbs such as basil, oregano and tarragon. Set the dehydrator between 95 degrees F to 115 degrees F. Place the washed dried herbs on a single layer on the trays. Drying time can take between one to four hours. Check herbs periodically. Herbs are dry when they crumble and the stems break. Reference the instruction booklet that came with your dehydrator for additional preserving details.

There are other methods to dry herbs. Herbs with sturdier stems like rosemary, sage or thyme are easiest to dry without a dehydrator. Tie them into small groups and hang them to air dry. You can also use a microwave to dry herbs in small amounts. Check the directions that came with your microwave for cooking times.

Herbs are ready for storage when they are crispy dry and crumble easily. Separate the husks from the chaff by rubbing the seeds between your hands. Store the herbs in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.

Use your home-grown herbs to enhance the flavors of your food. It’s fun to experiment with different herbs and foods to create new recipes without adding sodium. For more information on growing herbs and how to utilize them in cooking, check out the Harvesting and Drying Herbs publication by the University of Illinois.

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