Preserving your own herbs couldn’t be easier. Choose from freezing, drying or preserving, and enjoy their fresh flavours for longer. Here’s our guide to keeping herbs for use all year round.
We have covered drying herbs in some depth in our article about drying (see left). Woody herbs like rosemary, thyme and marjoram are suitable for this treatment – keep them in a cool, dark cupboard and you can enjoy them for a longer season.
Preserve your herbs in oil, vinegar, chutney or jam – they make fragrant, welcome gifts for friends and family. Try making rosemary or mint jelly to accompany meat dishes: use a basic apple jelly recipe (check out Marguerite Paten’s ‘Basic Basics’ book from Grub Street) and incorporate a handful of chopped herbs after straining the fruit (for this you will need a jelly bag made from muslin). Another lovely idea is to incorporate your herbs in fruit jams. Try making a rose petal and lavender jelly, or use basil to introduce a delicate floral note to a raspberry or gooseberry jam.
Freezing Fresh Herbs
You can put picked herbs straight into the freezer – the faster you do it, the better, as flavour and scent begin to disappear within hours of picking. Put sprigs into bags, seal, and freeze – or chop and cover with water in an ice-cube tray. These frozen herbs can be used in your cooking – add them at the end of a recipe to avoid overcooking the herbs. You can also float cubes of the more delicate herbs (mint, lavender, rosemary) in homemade lemonade or cocktails!
Making Herb Oils, Schnapps and Vinegars
– Herb oils are a fantastic way to preserve the fresh herb flavours to use in your cooking. Just gently wash dry the herb of your choice, and put a generous amount into a small saucepan. Cover it with olive oil, and gently warm it to blood temperature. Switch off the heat and leave the oil to infuse with the herbs (and garlic is a nice addition for rosemary and chive oils). After half an hour, strain it into a sterilised bottle or jug (for immediate use). Rosemary oil is wonderful drizzled over unbaked focaccia and basil oil is a fantastic drizzle for tomato soup.
– Turn your herb garden into a cocktail party… by making your own inventively-flavoured schnapps! Read our article about making your own fruit schnapps, and you can apply the same knowledge to herbs. Try lemon balm vodka, basil gin, or rhubarb and lavender schnapps. Be aware that some herbs – especially lavender – can impart a very strong flavour, and will need to be removed quite soon after infusion. Test after a week or less.
– Herb vinegar makes a good basis for interesting salad dressings. To make it, bring white wine vinegar to just below boiling point, and pour it over sprigs of herb (such as thyme) that you’ve put into a sterilised jar. Seal and keep for at least two weeks before opening and straining into a new, sterilised bottle. Lemon peel, raspberries, rosemary and sage make interesting additions to your vinegars.