Stocking up on herbs

My herb garden is a dangerous place these days for people who are allergic to bee stings like me. Usually I cut down the different mints in mid-summer but this year I wanted to be kind to the much-needed pollinators so I left everything untouched. As a result the area is swarming with bees and other insects. Even a hasty pulling of the largest weeds the other day felt like zigzagging through enemy lines.

Unfortunately I am not equally successful with all of the herbs. The production of thyme, one of my favorite herbs for cooking, can never meet the demand. Cilantro is another finicky grower. And, I seem to always forget that I have it, and when I do remember and want to use it in a dish, it’s already past its prime and has started to go into seed.

For the ones that do grow, here’s how I stock up on herbs for the winter:

Basil Air-dry in bunches, then strip off papery leaves and crumble finely using a colander. This retains small pieces of stem and other woodsy parts. Or chop up leaves by hand or in a food processor. Do not spin dry the leaves so some water still clings to them, which makes them easier to chop  in a food processor. Put basil puree in an ice-cube tray, fill up with water and freeze. Store basil cubes in a freezer container or a freezer bag and use for soups or pasta dishes.

Dill – Air dry or freeze. I usually let one or two plants go into seed and collect the seeds for next year. Dill seeds are also great for pickling.

Marjoram Air dry and crumble.

Mint – Air dry and crumble like basil. Powdered mint mixed with granulated sugar makes a great addition to fresh fruit salad (I always squeeze some lime on it too).

Oregano – Air dry and crumble.

Parsley – Freeze leaves or whole stems and use in soups and other cooked dishes.

Rosemary – The winters on our Pennsylvania mountaintop are too cold for rosemary so I grow it in a large pot and bring it inside before the first strong frost. I have had the same plant for several years now. In the winter I keep it in a barely heated room and water it very moderately. This way I can cut fresh rosemary year round although the shoots get a bit leggy in late winter. It just takes bigger amount the get the same flavor.

Sage – Air dry and crumble or freeze whole leaves for dishes such as Saltimbocca. Or, use for sage butter, which is delicious on baked winter squash and baked potatoes, or to rub under the skin of a chicken or turkey.

To make sage butter, mix 1 stick soft butter, 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage, finely grated peel of ½ organic lemon, and salt (amounts are to taste). If the sage leaves are large, cut out the thick mid-rib with a sharp knife. Refrigerate or freeze in small containers or in an ice-cube tray.

Savory – Air dry, crumble and use for Whole Wheat Herb Bread

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