Using Excess Herbs from the Garden
I don’t know about you, but my herb plants produce far more herbs than I could ever use. What can you do with excess herbs from the garden? Check out these ideas.
Using excess herbs from the garden
There are so many wonderful uses for herbs from the garden. Herbs are expensive to buy and having too much of them is a blessing. I like to try to keep as much as I can from going to waste in my garden, so I have to be creative with the excess herbs. A lot of people around here don’t see the value in herbs so when I try to share them, most people don’t know what to do with them.
I use as much of my herbs fresh as I can, but I love to have herbs to use in the winter too when the garden isn’t producing. Preserving excess herbs is a great way to have year-round goodness from the garden. There are several easy ways to save them.
If you cut herbs and place them in a glass of water like flowers, you can use them for weeks. Keep them on the counter in the kitchen and cut away. You can also dry your herbs to use later and even freeze them. Read on to find out more.
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Fresh versus dried herbs
Dried herbs are just as good as fresh in most cases. Drying retains most nutrients in food except for vitamin C. Drying is a great way to store excess herbs for later use. Store them in an airtight container and they will be good for most of the winter.
Freeze dried herbs
Freeze drying makes foods last even longer somehow. You can freeze dry herbs and they stay fresh for 1-3 years instead of just a half a year or so like regular dehydrating. My friend Victoria uses a freeze dryer, check out how to use it.
Freezing herbs is a great way to preserve that fresh summer flavor. I love to use my tons of excess basil from the garden to make this pesto. Then I freeze it in pint-sized jelly jars. When I’m ready to use it, I can thaw it and it tastes like the freshness of summertime. I love to use the pesto on pasta as a sauce. It also tastes awesome as a sauce for pizza or a marinade for meat.
Basil lasts a very long time on the counter in a glass of water. It also can be frozen in whole leaves which you can toss into a dish later.
Can you freeze cilantro
You can freeze cilantro for a burst of fresh summer taste in the cold months. Cilantro is a spring and fall crop, it bolts in the summer heat. You get to enjoy it at different times of the year than other herbs. I think it’s frustrating because I love cilantro in my fresh Pico and when my tomatoes, onions, peppers and garlic are ripe, the cilantro is long gone.
To solve this problem, I like to harvest cilantro, rinse it well and dry it off. Then I chop the cilantro finely and freeze it in small amounts. You can pack it into an ice cube tray and freeze it. Then pop the cubes out and store them in a mason jar in the freezer for several months. In the summer when your tomatoes are fresh and wonderful, you can make Pico and drop and cube in it. Give it a while to melt and stir it in. Delicious!
You can freeze any herb, but there are many great ways to do it.
How to harvest oregano
To harvest oregano and other herbs from the garden, wait until they are at least 4 inches tall. Harvest in the morning when the oils are most concentrated and they have the most flavor. I like to wait until the dew has dried off, but it’s not a must. Grab a handful of stems and cut them a few inches above the ground at least. It’s best to harvest the herbs before they flower.
If your herbs are flowering, go ahead and cut the flower heads off so the plants will continue to grow more edible leaves for you.
Once you harvest the herbs, they will grow back and continue to produce more. Every few weeks or even days you can harvest more. Oregano grows quite abundantly as do most herbs.
Drying herbs couldn’t be simpler. Grab a handful of rosemary stems and cut them with scissors. Tie the bundle at the stems and hang them upside down for a few weeks. Then you can easily rub them off the stem. For dried rosemary, I prefer to blend them a bit in the blender to break them into smaller pieces.
Rosemary is very easy to dry in the oven as well. It dries evenly, more so than some other herbs. Just use your oven’s lowest heat or even the pilot light if you have a gas oven. Check on it every hour or so and remove when it’s nice and crunchy.
Storing dried herbs
Dried herbs store wonderfully in mason jars or other containers. Just make sure they are airtight. I like the jars best for this. Keep them in a cool dry place like your cabinet out of the light. They will last for about 6 months depending on what kind of herbs they are. Basil and sage lose flavor sooner. The others will last a little longer.
Chives are another herb that freezes wonderfully. Cut the chives about halfway down the stalk. Cut them in about ¼ to 1/8-inch pieces to prepare them for freezing. You can freeze chives and any herb in ice cube trays in olive oil. Put about ½ teaspoon to a teaspoon of chopped chives in each ice cube section. Then drizzle olive oil on top.
Freeze the tray until set. It takes fat a little longer to freeze, so give it 4-8 hours. Then pop them out and store them in an airtight container in the freezer until needed.
Sage is one of my favorite herbs. I just LOVE the flavor of it. It’s kind of peppery and warm. I love it for holiday baking especially. Sage is very simple to dry, you can use a dehydrator, but you can also bundle it like rosemary and hang it upside down to dry. I like to remove it from the stems and toss it in a paper sack.
Every few days or once a week, shake the bag to toss the leaves so they dry evenly. In a couple of weeks, you’ll have dried sage. Then you can toss it in the blender for a quick spin to break it up a bit and store it in a mason jar for later use.
Can you freeze mint leaves?
Mint freezes wonderfully. A great way to freeze it is to cut a handful, wash and dry it, and then remove the leaves from the stem. Then you can put them in a jar in the freezer whole to drop into drinks and dishes. The best way to freeze individual leaves is to place them on a cookie sheet and then store them when they are already frozen.
Another great way to do mint would be to make a simple syrup using half sugar or honey and half water. Heat it gently on the stove until incorporated and let it cool. Place mint leaves in ice cube trays and add the syrup. When frozen, pop out for storage. These would make wonderful additions to teas and punches and would add sweetness too. They would also enhance cocktails as well.
Another great way to preserve mint is my using it to make extract. It’s easier than you think.
If you grow mint, you’ll have tons of excess herbs from your plant.
Dill can be frozen similarly to the other herbs mentioned. Chop the dill into 1/8-inch pieces and press into an ice cube tray or mix into softened butter and press into ice cube trays. Once they are frozen pop out and store in an airtight container in the freezer.
Herb butter is wonderful for spreading on toast or using on top of meat like steak. It’s also wonderful in a baked potato. I love to drop a cube of herb butter or herb olive oil into the pan at the beginning of a dish to impart even more flavor as I’m sweating onions or beginning a stir fry or whatever. It’s a great way to enhance the flavor of any dish and give it layers of goodness.
Thyme is a little harder to harvest than other herbs because the stems are spindly, but you still do it the same way. Grab a handful and cut a few inches from the bottom. You can then dry it in a bundle, remove from stems and cook with it or dry it in a sack, or freeze it or mix it into oil or butter and freeze it. Having excess herbs like thyme is a huge blessing in the winter when all the flavors of summer are gone.
Lavender is a wonderful herb to grow too. Check out more about growing and using it here.
Herbs are so versatile and add so much flavor and pizzazz to your life. It takes a little experimenting and learning to get to know how to use them. Less is more is what I’ve learned.
When my dish has turned out in some way that I didn’t enjoy, it was because I used too much. But there are so many ways to use them. They are nutritious, they are medicinal, they are delicious and they just add a lot to anyone’s life. Take a little time to get to know them and you’ll fall in love too.
For more fresh garden recipe inspiration, click on this picture of the 2020 Farm to Table Recipe Calendar and get your copy today!
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