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Kitchen Gardening

3 Easy Ways to Preserve the Herbs

Cooler nighttime temperatures mean the end is near to another vegetable gardening season.

Now's the time to start saving all those homegrown culinary herbs to use for savory winter recipes. 
Photo/Illustration: Jodi Torpey

The plants in my patio herb garden are slowing down, but I have to start speeding up. There’s no time to waste at the end of the season if I want to make the most of those delicious herbs before they call it quits.

I’ve been busy in the kitchen. There’s a lot of pickling, roasting, canning, freezing and drying going on around here. 

In addition to making sure not a single fresh vegetable goes to waste, I’ve been busy in the herb garden, too. If I want to use all those gorgeous culinary herbs this winter, I have to keep clipping, snipping and drying.

There’s an abundance of basil, thyme, tarragon, chives, rosemary, sage and oregano. Here are three quick and easy ways to preserve these herbs:

1. Hang them up. Clip herbs like basil and sage in the morning while the leaves are at their freshest. Sort through the leaves and discard any that are damaged from insects or disease. Wash gently and pat dry with a paper towel. Then bundle in clusters, tie with a rubber band and hang them in a cool place to dry. An ordinary metal clothes hanger and a few clothes pins make a cheap herb drier.

When herbs are crunchy dry, remove whole leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container away from the light. Wait to crush herbs until using them in cooking.

2. Lay them down. Another way to dry herbs like oregano, rosemary and thyme is to sort them, rinse, pat dry and place them on a drying screen where air can circulate around them. A simple alternative is to place them on a paper towel making sure not to crowd them. Smaller leaves will dry in just a few days.

3. Microwave them. The tender leaves of some herbs, like chives, need a slightly different method for drying. I’ve tried hanging them or placing them on a screen, but they lose their color. The solution is to sort, wash, dry and snip them into 1/2- inch pieces and spread them on a paper towel in the microwave. Cover with a second paper towel and microwave on high for 40 seconds. Check for dryness and continue in 20-second increments until the chives are nearly dry. Allow them to air dry completely before storing in a jar or other airtight container.

There are other methods for preserving chives, like mixing them into butter and freezing.

What easy ways do you have for preserving your home-grown herbs?

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