PRESERVE THE HERB
Growing your own herbs is something just about anyone can do, whether in a home with a garden or an apartment with a window box. Depending on the herbs you plant, at some point during the year there will be an overabundance, the kind that strikes fear into your heart. You’ve certainly experienced the moment when you wonder if you’ll wake up the next morning prisoner to fragrant mint, heady sage, perfumed lemon verbena. It’s the zucchini syndrome all over, just more fragrant.
The best solution I know, when you’ve made as many mint frappés, sage stuffings, verbena custards, oregano scented salads is to dry the herbs for future use. Not all herbs can be successfully dried, but these four definitely can. In fact, in the case of oregano, it just gets better as it dries. Be sure to pick your herbs before they flower, so the leaves still have their pugnacity of flavor; once the flowers appear, their flavor diminishes.
The easiest way to dry herbs is to have patience and let it happen slowly. No oven heat, no direct sun. Simply line baking sheets with newspaper or a cotton tea towel. Then, pluck the leaves off their stems, and drop them on the paper or the towels. Set the herbs in a dry spot in your house out of direct sun, and leave them for 24 to 48 hours. You will know when they are completely dry because they become crisp to the touch. And they must be completely dry before being stored, otherwise there is a chance they could mold. And you don’t want that.
What to do With Them?
If you’re French, you simmer them in hot water, and drink the liquid as a “tisane” or herb tea. Each herb has a medicinal use – thyme wakes you, sage cures colds, verbena makes you happy, mint gives you energy.
Lemon verbena can also be used to flavor cakes or muffins, crumbling the leaves and making sure there are no hard “ribs” that make their way into the batter.
Dried oregano has a multitude of uses, one of my favorites being to blend it into softened goat cheese along with fruity olive oil and a hint of garlic. Wrap this in pastry and bake it and you’ve got a wonderful appetizer on your hand, or simply serve it as a dip with “crudités,” or fresh vegetable. s
As for dried sage, it’s traditionally used in stuffing, sausages, and its tiny leaves can be tossed into a salad. It makes a wonderful tisane for a scratchy throat, and if you tie dried sage in a bundle, light it on fire and let it smoke, it will chase away any demons who might be lingering.
You’ll find other uses for dried herbs, too. That said, I don’t recommend drying tarragon, parsley, chives, basil or thyme. Apart from thyme, these herbs are delicate and their perfume simply doesn’t stay with them. As for thyme, it’s a year-round herb that dies back slightly in winter but, depending on the size of your plantation, will supply you with fresh leaves year round.
Once your herbs are dried, put them in an air-tight container and keep them cool and dark. They will give you wonderful flavor year-round.