This year I planted my first ever veggie and herb garden. Well, except the one I planted when i was in the 6th grade which the neighbours’ dog totally destroyed in a frenzied romp through the plants just as they were starting to grow. So I don’t think that one counts. I have loved watering, fertilising, and nurturing this garden. I’ve had some failures but also some successes.
One of the easy successes was the herbs. Oh my goodness, do they ever grow! The problem is, I live alone with my two dogs so it was almost impossible to use them in a way that kept up with their proliferate growth. As a result, I had to research how to preserve them. I figured drying them was the best bet but then I started to dive deep into the wonderful worlds of Google and Pinterest – which by the way, are very much like an Ouroboros, the ancient symbol for infinity, in that they feed each other and the reader gets lost in an endless, infinite, loop of ideas from which I wasn’t sure if I would ever emerge. In the end, I found three methods I wanted to try – drying, refrigerator drying and freezing.
Herbs grow really well in pots and containers so even if you don’t have a yard, you can still try your hand at growing and preserving your own herbs.
It turns out different herbs have different properties and so different methods are more effective on some herbs than others. The most useful discovery for me was the refrigerator method of drying chives since normal drying methods turn them brown while refrigerator drying keeps them beautifully green. Normal drying works for most herbs but I also made the basil into pesto and put it in the freezer. Read on for a description of all three methods.
Method 1: Refrigerator Drying My Chives
Have you ever left your herbs in the refrigerator for too long and thrown them out? It turns out, you don’t need to throw them out. This is one method for drying herbs to preserve them and is especially good for chives, tarragon, dill, chervil and coriander (which the Americans call cilantro). At the time I tried this, I had just bought a new fridge and the old (and tiny!) one was in the garage. I was debating whether to sell it or keep it. In the end, I kept it and I am glad I did. It has come in so handy for storing the overflow, keeping water chilled and was essential when I had my 50th birthday party recently. It’s also brilliant for drying herbs! Some herbs don’t dry well by other methods – they lose their colour and their vitality. Chives are one of those herbs. So here’s how I dried them.
- Harvest from the plant.
- Pick out any brown, slimy or dead bits
- Wash and dry thoroughly
- Cut into the size you want your dried chives to be. I left mine pretty longish this time. I would do them a little shorter next time.
- Place baking paper on a baking tray and spread the chives in a single layer on the tray. Don’t overload the tray – leave lots of space so the chives are not closely packed.
- Put the tray in the refrigerator. Do not cover it.
- Every couple of days, shake the tray or stir the chives around.
- After a week or so, the chives will be dried and can be stored for future use.
Method 2: Air Drying
For some of my other herbs – rosemary, oregano, mint – I tried the usual method of air drying them. This is the most well-known and straight forward method.
- Tie herbs together in small bundles with twine or cooking string.
- Wrap in muslin or cheesecloth.
- Hang upside down in a dark room.
- Leave for 2-4 weeks.
- Once dried, strip leaves from stalks and store in an airtight container. Some herbs you can just crumble using your hands, for others it will be easier to use a herb stripper. Strippers come in many varieties. I’ve put two that I like to use in the photos and video below.
- One tip: put labels on the bunches! Seriously. I figured since I only had four I would be fine to remember which was which. But a month later, I discovered that wasn’t quite the case. Take the time to label them.
Method 3: Make it into something and freeze it – Pesto
The final method is to make the herbs into something – basil is ideal to make into pesto which can be frozen. I won’t include a recipe here because it is not my own original recipe and I don’t where I got it from so I can’t attribute it to the author – and there are a number of things I would change the next time I make it. But please do go down the Google and Pinterest rabbit holes and find your own pesto recipe! Pesto can be frozen and then thawed and used whenever it is needed. I froze mine in small jars but it can also be frozen as ice cubes for when you only need small amounts.
A tip for storing herbs
By now you may have realised that I LOVE to cook and that means I have a collection of herbs and spices. The supermarket herbs and spices I have that come in glass containers are in a larger storage container in the pantry (and arranged in alphabetical order to make them easy to find!) but often I buy organic herbs that do not come in containers. One of the best things I have discovered is the magnetic spice containers from Ikea. They are airtight and easy to store. When I lived in a tiny apartment in Sydney, I had a tiny fridge (which is the one that is now in the garage). I had very little storage in my kitchen and no pantry. I stuck the magnetic spice containers on the side of the fridge. Genius. Now that I have a new, bigger, fridge, in the bigger house I am living in in Victoria, there isn’t space between the fridge and the cupboard to reach in and get the spices. So, I went to Kmart and bought some cheap magnetic white board squares. I’ve put two of them on the wall in the kitchen next to the stove and put the magnet spice containers on that. In alphabetical order. But that’s just me. You are welcome to put them in any order you want. Though, if I come visit, I might just re-arrange them. 🙂
I’d love you to comment below on your favourite herbs, your successes or funny stories about growing them, and your tips on preserving or storing them! If you enjoyed this blog, please spread the word on facebook and instagram and tell your friends! Happy gardening!