Gardens - Herb Gardening

Harvesting herbs

Learn when and how to pick and preserve nature's own remedies

Many soft-leafed herbs freeze even better than they dry. These include basil, parsley, chives, cilantro, lovage, dill and chervil. Wash the herbs, run them through the salad spinner and slip them into plastic freezer bags. You may want to chop the herbs ahead of time if you're going to use them as a garnish; otherwise, freeze them whole. They'll crumble easily when frozen. In recipes, use one teaspoon of frozen herbs to half a teaspoon of dried. Fresh herbs can also be slipped into ice- cube trays, topped with water and frozen. Try blue borage flowers or sprigs of mint to garnish summertime drinks.

Bottle it
Herbal vinegars-a great treat-can be expensive to buy but easy and economical to make at home. And they are another way of preserving the harvest.

Single herbs-or combinations thereof-can be turned into herbal vinegar. Some cooks use a hot steeping method, warming the vinegar and herbs together, then leaving them to steep. Others insist heat destroys the acidity of the vinegar and dilutes the herbal taste. Whatever your opinion, cold steeping is faster and easier, and produces a highly flavoured vinegar.

Start with a good-quality white or red wine vinegar, rice vinegar, sherry vinegar or cider vinegar. Take one clean, large glass jar and fill it three-quarters full with the herbs of your choice. Make sure the herbs are fresh, clean and in good shape. Top the herbs with vinegar. If the herbs float, take a wooden spoon and gently push them below the surface. Leave the blend to steep for at least four weeks (several months is better). Strain, bottle and store away from direct light. Slip a clean, fresh herb sprig into the vinegar when you bottle it if you plan to use it or give it away soon.

Here are two recipes to get you started:

Italian blend
Place handfuls of clean, dry oregano, basil and rosemary into a large glass jar. Add flat-leafed Italian parsley, two hot peppers and a few unblemished, clean and peeled garlic cloves. Top with white wine vinegar.

French blend
Place handfuls of clean, dry tarragon, thyme and chives into a large glass jar. Add two bay leaves, a few peppercorns and a clean, peeled shallot or two. Top with rice or white wine vinegar.

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