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Processing Garden Herbs

Sometimes the garden produces an abundance of herbs that start to crowd out other plants and we must cut them back to make space. But why let this nutritious resource go to the compost bin? Here are some ideas for using up the harvest.

Some herbs grow like weeds – yes, mint family, we’re looking at you. Spearmint, lemon balm, catnip, and oregano are all known to spread themselves freely through the garden, and therefore right into our kitchens. To take advantage of peak essential oil production, these herbs are harvested as they begin to flower, but don’t forget to leave a few flowers for beneficial insects.

Add lemon balm to your iced water, lemonade, or sun tea for a fresh burst of flavor.

Infusing Your Beverages

Harvest mint, lemon balm, or lavender to add to your iced water, lemonade, or sun tea for a fresh burst of flavor. Cut entire stems, rinse if necessary, gently crush the leaves and/or flowers to allow essential oils to be released, and put a small bouquet straight in the pitcher.

Storing Fresh Herbs

Place cut stems of parsley or cilantro in a glass with about an inch of water, cover loosely with a plastic bag, and store in the refrigerator. When it’s not too sunny, you can also leave the glass out on the counter. Alternatively, wrap stems in a damp paper towel, place in a plastic bag and refrigerate. Herbs will last about a week in the refrigerator.

Freezing Delicate Fresh Herbs

Chop herbs finely and sprinkle into ice cube trays, top off with water or olive oil and freeze. Herbs can be frozen separately, mixed in your favorite combos for popular recipes, or beaten into a pesto before freezing. Frozen herbs are best used in cooked dishes, like stews, since they lose their color and crunch when thawed.

Drying Herbs

Hang small bouquets of herbs in a well ventilated part of the kitchen, out of direct sunlight, until leaves are fully dried and crispy. Leaves are likely to darken as they dry. Watch for signs of mold and discard any moldy bits. Otherwise use a dehydrator or the oven set to 100-125 degrees F to extract the moisture content. When herbs are completely dry, remove leaves from the stems, crush or chop as desired, and store in a glass jar. Try combining your favorites for a unique garden herbs de provence.

Making Herb Butter

This versatile recipe can be customized to whatever you are harvesting. Thyme, chives, dill, sage, and parsley all provide great flavors. Try this Herb Butter in a Jar recipe from Seattle Farm to Preschool. Or make a sweet version using lavender and/or lemon balm with a drizzle of honey.

Mix Up a Vinaigrette 

Fresh herbs are an exciting addition to a traditional salad dressing. Parsley and basil add a savory/sweet combo that is delightful in pasta salads. Or try adding a teaspoon of ground cumin and chopped fresh cilantro to the basic recipe to dress cabbage. 

Refer to this guide to common herbs from Farm to Preschool for more information about garden grown herbs, where they come from, and how to use them.