Almost all herbs taste best when they are as fresh as possible, but many can be kept for use out of season. Some are evergreen and can be picked right before they are used, so they don’t need to be maintained. Rosemary, Parsley, Hyssop, and Sage are some of these.
Some can be kept alive longer by growing them in a greenhouse or window sill.
The only herb that seems to be better after being dried is bay leaves. Many others have a lot of flavors even after being dried—most of the time, the ones that taste stronger work best. Fragrant tastes and smells are easily lost, leaving behind a dry, powdery taste that doesn’t add anything to the dishes they’re added to.
Pick the stems of fully grown leaves when it is dry to dry leaves. You can cut back the bush simultaneously to keep it from getting too big. Gather the stems into small bunches, secure them with an elastic band, and hang them in a dry room with good airflow. The benefit of the elastic band is that it will still hold the stems even as they dry out and shrink. Once the leaves are dry and crisp, they should be taken off the stems and put in airtight containers, preferably away from light and heat.
Bay leaves should be kept whole, but sage and marjoram can be broken up or “rubbed” before being put away.
Extend the Season
Mint, chives, lemon balm, and bergamot can be kept in small pots under glass, and the leaves will stay fresh longer than if they were left outside. If you have enough space and pots, you could bring in a second batch near the end of winter to pick them up in early spring. Annual herbs like basil and coriander can be planted repeatedly and kept on a window sill to keep a steady supply.
Many herbs with soft leaves quickly lose their taste and smell when dried. The best way to keep them for a long time is probably to freeze them. One way is to finely chop the herbs, put them in ice cube trays, and fill the rest with water. Once the cubes are solid, you can put them in freezer bags. This method works well for parsley, chives, coriander, and basil. You can also freeze flowers like borage, calendula, and pinks into ice and use them to decorate drinks. Spreading the leaves out on a tray to freeze and then packing them into plastic boxes is another way.
Butters, Oils, and Vinegar
Making vinegar, oils, or butter from herbs is another way to keep their flavor. Herb butter is easy to make:
- Mix finely chopped herbs with butter.
- Shape the mixture into small pats.
- Freeze or store it in the fridge if you don’t plan to use it immediately.
This is an excellent use for garlic, tarragon, and chives.
Pick fresh herbs and cover them with good vinegar or vegetable oil to make oils or vinegar. Let it sit for about a week, shaking it every so often. Taste and strain. If you want a more robust flavor, you can repeat the process. The oil should be kept in glass bottles out of the sun. As a decoration, a fresh sprig of the herb can be added.
If you want to save seeds, it’s best to keep them whole until you’re ready to use them. Coriander, fennel, and caraway seeds need to be spread out on tissue paper and kept in a warm, dry place until they are completely dry. Once they are dry, they can be put in containers that keep air out.