Using Herbs from a Home Herb Garden
Once your herbs are planted, you can watch them grow and flourish. Herbs are so useful, not only for cooking, adding to oils, but also for medicinal uses. However, your home herb garden requires just a bit of work.
Herbs can become a part of your daily life. You will get so used to adding an extra special flavor that can only come from your home-grown herb garden. You most likely will be harvesting (picking) your herbs daily. Harvesting is very important. Timing is everything. If you are using the herbs for an immediate use, obviously the best time to pick them is when you need them. But, if you are planning on drying or freezing the herbs, it is extremely important to harvest them when their flavor is at their peak. It is better to pick the young leaves several times a season rather than waiting until the entire plant is mature. Pick the herb flowers either right before they are ready to bloom or when they first open their petal. It does not matter if you are using the herbs immediately, drying or freezing, the morning is the best time to harvest the herb flower or leaves. This is when the concentration of rich oils that give the herbs their aromas and flavors is strongest.
Many people that have their own home herb gardens harvest by the phases of the moon.
They say that herbs that have been harvested around a moon calendar retain more nutrients and flavor. Pick your herbs in the morning as usual, but check a moon calendar to find the best phase of the moon.
One of the big pleasures of having your own home herb garden is that you can eat your foods without having to wash it. There are no pesticides or chemical to rinse off. If you plan to store your herbs for a few days, hold off washing them. When you do wash the herbs and if there is a large quantity, you can use the sink and place 2 tablespoons of salt in the water. This will get rid of insects without damaging the plant. After removing the herb, dry them in a salad spinner. The exception is parsley. This is one herb that stays longer and fresher if you seep it in cool water as soon as you pick it. This herb will not wilt by following this procedure.
Although different types of herbs have their own list of instructions, typically there are three ways that people preserve their herbs for later use: drying, freezing or preserving.
Drying is one of the simplest and most convenient ways to preserve your herbs’ leaves and flowers. Hang drying is an especially great way to preserve large quantities of herbs. You will need a well ventilated, dark, dry location. Your attic or a small dark room would be ideal. Don’t bother to wash them. Tie small bunches of herbs with twist ties, rubber bands or elastic threads and hang them so that air can circulate freely. Hang them one foot from the wall and leave at least 6 inches between bunches. Most herbs dry within two weeks. They will feel crackly to touch. These herbs are much more concentrated than fresh herbs. Store in tightly closed jars/bottles and store in dark part of your kitchen cabinet.
Freezing captures the full flavor of herb leaves. Cut the herbs into ¼ inch pieces and place on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Once frozen, place in a bag for more efficient storage. A neat trick for using your herbs in soups/stews is to place your chopped up herbs in an ice tray and cover with water and freeze. These cubes are handy to add to a simmering pot of soup or sauce.
The third way is using a medium. You can use either vinegar or salt.One great example is to use chopped mint, basil or tarragon with vinegar. It will stay preserved for months. If you’d like to make flavored salt, just alternate layers of fresh herbs between salt. When completely dry, separate the brown herb from the flavored salt and store in an airtight container.
Herbs transform ordinary meals into magical delights. Even if you already cook with herbs, having your own herb garden will inspire you to experiment and discover new ways of making an old recipe new.