You want to get your own culinary herbs, or simply want to know how to keep them fresh? Here are some tips to grow, buy, and store your herbs, the right way.
Growing Culinary Herbs
All herbs do not have the same geographic origins. Thyme, savory and rosemary grow naturally in the sunny Mediterranean basin region. While mint grows readily in partial shade, at the edge of a stream. It is therefore necessary to plant your herbs according to their needs.
Of course, for all the herbs, good lighting and watering is necessary to adapt to the seasons. Water more in summer than in autumn. Also, do not place them in a windy area, as wind is the enemy of these small, fragile plants.
A soil enriched with compost and good drainage will help to grow strong herbs. Prefer clay when it comes to your containers, as the soil will take longer to dry out. And there’s no need to spray insecticide, especially on leaves that will be consumed.
Pick the flowers before they are fully blooming, and harvest the leaves before your plant’s flowering.
Buying Culinary Herbs
You have no garden or balcony and a small kitchen, and there’s no room. Don’t despair. You can still buy your culinary herbs at your local market or grocery store.
Choose always fresh ones. From a strong bight green color, to more or less dark (depending on the plant). Leaves should not be stained, yellowed or wilted. Stems must have strong support, and be unbroken (especially when you buy a bunch of herbs).
Supermarkets also sell culinary herbs, mostly fresh, in small containers, or chopped. Their quality is quite acceptable, and renders fine flavors, even if it doesn’t rival fresh ones.
Similarly, dried herbs are sold in small jars, among spices. The taste is less pronounced, but the shelf-life is much longer.
Keeping Culinary Herbs
Once picked, or purchased, you can still keep your fresh herbs for a few days, especially if you’re not using them immediately.
Put your culinary herbs in a jar, with a little bit of water at the bottom, so that the ends of stems are dipped. The plant gets some water and stays fresh. Cover the jar tightly with some plastic wrap, and place it at the bottom of your fridge.
Another method to preserve them, is to wrap the herbs in paper towels that are then placed in a plastic paper bag. Close it carefully and put in the crisper of your ridge. Your herbs will remain in good condition for a week or two.
To keep your herbs even longer, so as to flavor a soup during winter, just freeze them. Freezing preserves the flavor. Although it may deteriorate the appearance of your herbs a little, they retain their taste. Most herbs are indeed very tolerant. Wash and dry them, then place them in a plastic bag.
If you’d rather use the herbs individually, separate them onto plates, and freeze them as-is. Then, once frozen, place them all in an airtight container. Another way to save time is to freeze chopped leaves in ice cube trays with water.
Culinary herbs can also be stored dried. Ones that dry easily are mainly: dill, basil, tarragon, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme. You should pick them first thing during a sunny morning, right after the dew. The sun will have warmed the atmosphere, and dried the herbs.
In clusters of 5 to 10 stems, hang the herbs upside down in an airy and dark room, between 68°F/20°C and 86°F/30°C
The drying process can take from one to three weeks. If you are in a hurry, dry your herbs in the oven. Spread them on a baking sheet, in an oven heated to 100°F/38°C They’ll become crisp and leaves will be dry. Be careful however, as they burn quickly.
Store dried herbs in glass jars or plastic containers, away from light and moisture.