Sunday, May 22, 2011

Growing and Preserving Herbs

Herbs are just one of those things.  They are really easy to grow, organically even, but really expensive to buy if they are any quality at all.  I don't know why anyone wouldn't grow their own herbs.  If you've ever spent $3.99 or better for one of those "short" bottles of any herb, you have a measure of understanding.

So anyway...we love herbs here at the Haney Place.  They make really healthy, wholesome foods into a memorable feast.  And they're good for you!!!!

An example of the ease of herbs, two years ago, we planted one tiny peppermint plant, and now we can't keep the peppermint at bay any more.  We're talking mint tea, mint anything....and enough to preserve for the winter. 

Let's start with oregano.  A staple here, and when you buy it organically, it's $5.99 or better for a short bottle (less than 1 oz.).  Well, it's only May, and we've already harvested enough for the coming year and we didn't spend one dime.  Two years ago, Big Steve half-buried a cracked pickling crock and filled it with dirt and we planted some oregano.  It has been planting itself ever since.

Yesterday, Big Steve cut it, and we worked together to tie it up to hang and dry.  Now, get ready to say awwwwwwwwwwwwwww......  You know when you are with the love of your life, working together on a shared goal, and your hands touch and your eyes meet, and it is a totally romantic moment...awwwwwwwwwwww.....

So, after a few years of growing our herbs for putting by for our use for the whole year, I have a few tips, based on what has and has not worked for us.  Herbs are easy to grow, not so easy to un-grow.  I recommend a pot.  You will be amazed at how one pack of seeds (or less) will grow you a year's worth of any one herb.  If you put it in the garden, it might grow out of control, and you will have all you can do to reclaim your piece of earth, much like my peppermint:

Now on to preserving.....  Herbs are easy to grow, but they are fragile.  We have an Excalibur dehydrator, which I love.  I coveted one for years before I was able to afford one!!!  But even with an Excalibur, be careful.  You might simply tie up bunches and hang them upside down as we did with the oregano.  No electricity -- just a bit of twine.  And something to store them in - a mason jar, even a zip-lock bag.

If you must use the dehydrator, I recommend no higher than 95 degrees, and for no longer than 2  hours.  And the fragrance, whichever way you choose to dry, be mindful of the fragility and wonder of these herbs. 

Lastly, you can freeze them.  Wash and cut up some really fresh leaves.  You can put a portion in each section of an ice cube tray and then fill 2/3 full with good filtered water.  When they have frozen solid, they can be stored in a freezer bag.  You can just toss them into a recipe (soup, stew) when the time comes. 

There are benefits and drawbacks to each method.  Personally, I like air-drying.  Saves resources, and you don't have to worry about what to do if the power goes out during the winter storms.

Experiment, and enjoy!  You really can't do this wrong!

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