Are you planning on putting any of your herbs to good use? Before starting seeds or picking out plants, there is one very important bit to consider … how are you going to preserve your herbs after the harvest?
Why is that such a big deal? The short answer is that if you plan on hanging your herbs to dry, you will need to consider where you have a clean dry space to do so. When a small seed package is sitting in one’s hand on planting day, it can be impossible for roookies to imagine how much space they will need to hang all that bounty up to dry.
Happily there is more than one way to preserve your herbal harvest.
oil based herb pastes
Helpful Hint: You will find that herbs grown in an earth friendly garden will have more taste than their ‘store bought cousins. Hence you may not need to grow as large a quantity as you might think.
Of all the methods, drying is the most space intensive way to preserve herbs. So why would we bother? Ahh… it might take a LOT of space to dry herbs, but once herbs are air dryed and are crumbled in a jar, they take up very little space and can be stored in any cool dry place for a long time.
Air drying – I have always enjoyed the Zen of hanging herbs to air dry. I have only ever used plain old twine …. cut in roughly 18 inch lengths with a loop tied on each end. This way one only has to push a bit of the twine back through the loop to secure the herb stem. By securing a stem at each end, the piece of twine can them be looped over any handy rod or hook. When the herbs are dry, it is very easy to remove the string and save for next time.
Freeze drying- If you have space in your freezer, this is an excellent way to have dried herbs that still retain their natural colour. Over the years, I have found I have my best success loosely putting a plant in a paper bag and just leaving it in the freezer for at least a week. Once the leaves are stripped off the plant and crumbled, I have always kept freeze dried herbs in either the fridge or the freezer.
Preserving with Oil
There are basically two ways that you can do this. You can proccess your herb of choice in oil in a food processor or blender. Small quantities can be stored in canning jears in the fridge, but larger amouts should be frozen to prevent spoilage. Pesto is a good example of herbs preserved this way.
Good success can also be had by the simple expedient of loosely packing a glass bottle with whatever part of the plant that is being preserved and then topping it up with enough oil to cover. Herbs preserved this way will have a longer shelf life if the bottles or jars are sealed. When I do this, I use small wine bottles and put the cork in with the same little corking tool that home winemakers use. The downside of this method is that the shelf life of herbs preserved in oil is only as long as the oil being used. You can extend the shelf life somewhat by steeping the herbs in oil for a week or two and then straining before bottling.
are a time honored way of preserving medicinal herbs safely for later use. Basically, you are simply steeping the appropriate part of the desired plant in alcohol.
There are, quite obviously, some very real risks associated with this method:
- a little learning can be a dangerous thing … see note below
- there is a moral obligation to ensure that anyone using a tincture is aware that it made with alcohol.
- care must be taken to store tinctures out of the reach and easy access of children.
can be used to to preserve culinary herbs. It is worth noting that in pickle and relish recipes that call for herbs, quantities should never be increased until one has made the recipe at least once. The most common herbs that are pickled in vinegar are garlic and cayenne peppers.
Electric dehydrators are an efficient way to dry herbs, especially when space is at a premium. To the best of my knowledge, no studies have been done to show whether any goodness is lost in the dyhydrating process.
Some success can also be had by drying herbs in the oven although this is admitedly the very least energy efficient option as success depends upon keeping the oven door slightly ajar for good air circulation.
It would, in my not so humble opinion, be more energy efficient to dry your herbs in your microwave. Not time efficient though as the herbs need to be turned every thirty seconds and each batch normally takes two to three minutes.
For those with a few basic DIY skills, there are no shortage of plans online for Solar Dehydrators, such as this one
is a time honored way of preserving the essential oils in herbs safely for later use. Of all the methods for preserving herbs, it is by far the most labour intensive. It also takes an incredible amount of herbal material to produce even the smallest quantity of essential oil. In the absence of proper lab equipment, a crude home still can be created using a dutch oven to simmer the herbal material. This Instructable Guide is the clearest one I have found to illustrate the process.
It should be noted that there may be some question of purity and consistency in both commercially produced essential oils and ones that are distilled at home on the stove. That being said, if one has to purchase the herbal material, it is actually more cost effective to buy essential oils than to make them. It has been my experience that the essentials that I have bought from reputable health stores are of better quality than the those sold in the big box stores.
Please Note – in no way, shape or form should any information on this site be considered as a suitable substitute for seeking professional medical help. Helpful Hint: any reputable health food store should be able to recommend a good naturopath or doctor.