One of the advantages of growing your own herbs is being able to harvest fresh plant parts when you need them. Also, when you grow your own, you can select plants that might not be readily available in the local market. Preserving some herbs will allow their use year round. Drying herbs is the most energy efficient way.
Harvest herbs when the plant has enough foliage to sustain growth. With annual herbs like basil, you can cut 50-75% of the plant and it will recover. Cutting off flower heads will encourage more leaf growth. For perennial herbs like parsley, remove no more than one-third of the plant growth at any one time. Use pruners or a sharp knife to make clean cuts that will heal easily.
Harvest early in the day after plants have dried from the morning dew and before it gets too hot. Make sure that the plants have not been sprayed with pesticides.
The traditional way to preserve herbs is by air drying or by using low heat. Drying concentrates the flavor of herbs so you can use less dried herb than the amount of fresh ones in recipes.
After harvesting, gently wash and dry them thoroughly on paper towels. Pick over them to remove any dead or damaged material. They can be tied in loose bunches and placed in small paper bags with the stems sticking out the top of the bag. Punch ventilation holes in the bag. The bags help protect the drying herbs from dust and other contamination while drying. Place the herb bunches in a warm, dry, well ventilated area out of the sun. It may take up to a month for them to dry completely.
For quicker completion of drying, we utilize a home food dehydrator or our Sun Oven®. We strip the leaves from the stems and spread the leaves on drying trays. Maintain a 95º F temperature for a day. Check the herbs for crunchy dryness and pack carefully into glass jars. Clear glass jars store best in a cool, dark place. Crush the herbs just prior to using them. Most herbs retain their flavor for about a year.
Freezing herbs is easy, but herbs preserved this way are most useful in the cooking process. Frozen herbs often thaw out limp and are not suitable for garnish, but the flavor quality is not altered.
Billie Nicholson, editor