Herbs are not only used for seasoning foods, but for medicinal purposes, teas, perfumes, and potpourri.
Nearly all herbs are perennials, dying down each year and returning the following season. I have found that thyme, particularly, needs pruning fairly hard to keep its bushy shape, so that you have nice young leaves and juicy stems to use. If left to their own devices the stems can become straggly, woody and dry. Basil is an exception to this rule, needing to be planted fresh each year.
Herbs growing in pots can be purchased from supermarkets now. You can either leave them in the pot or re-plant in the garden. Either way it is a quicker route than planting from seed, obviously.
Most herbs can be dried for use in teas, or to delicately flavor foods. They retain their fresh flavor for up to six months or more if stored in a dry, dark, cool spot.
Herb and spice shelves should not be near stoves or refrigerators. Heat from cooking diminishes flavors, as does the heat diffused from the outside of a refrigerator. If a dark cabinet is not available, store the herbs in tinted jars or wrap the jars in decorative dark paper.
Label and date herbs as they are prepared or purchased so that you can keep track of their freshness. When in doubt – smell. If the odor is dusty with only a faint aroma, it will not be much good adding them to your food and they should be discarded.
Basil, mint, chives, rosemary, sage, thyme, coriander, sweet marjoram, Lemon Balm ( Melissa ) and chervil can all be grown in your garden during the summer, or in containers on your window sill. Basil, particularly, is frost tender and should be protected at night as soon as the weather starts to cool down.
Herbs can be preserved for culinary purposes in several different ways, chopped and frozen, wrapped in small plastic bags for use as needed, or in ice cube trays covered in water and frozen. Just one or two cubes dropped into your soup or casserole is a quick and easy way to add seasoning.
A small bundle of mixed herbs can be discharged by tying them together and suspending them from a line inside the house. Do not dry them in the direct sun. They can also be discharged in the oven, dehydrator or a microwave.
For oven drying, wash the leaves gently and blot dry. Place on oven rack in the lowest possible temperature and leave the oven door ajar. Herbs need an even lower temperature than fruit and vegetables. Dry until crisp, but do not overdry.
For the dehydrator , spread the washed leaves on the shelves and dry at about 110 ° -120 ° F.
For the microwave more care is needed. Place the washed, blotted leaves onto absorbent paper and dry on the medium high setting for 30 seconds at a time. The fleshier the leaves the more time will be needed. Turn the leaves regularly and again, do not overdry.
Herbs will keep their flavor longer if the leaves are stored whole, rather than chopped or ground. Crumble the leaves just before use for maximum flavor.
When making tea, one teaspoonful of the crumbled leaves, steeped for 5 to 10 minutes in a cup of hot (not boiling) water will make a flavorful drink. The addition of honey and / or lemon juice also enhances the flavor and nutrition.
The extra flavor of carefully washed and stored herbs is far superior to those bought off the shelf. It is well worth the small effort involved.