Dig into your summer surplus all winter long

Preserving the Herb Garden

by Zada Clarke

Preserving the Herb Garden

Elizabeth Whelan

Use your put-up herbs throughout the colder months. Keep your pantry stocked with clippings from a house-herb kitchen garden all year-round.  

The soup needs something. It lacks strength in flavor, and I find myself flustered and hopeless as I rake through a crowded spice drawer. Almond extract, mullein, a shriveled vanilla bean. No, no, no…none of these will do. I run out the door and into my garden, the crisp air nipping at my toes, which reminds my feet that summer is on its last leg and soon it will be time to dig out my cherished pair of alpaca wool socks. The soft violet light of a mid-September evening is all I need to shake a few rattling coriander seeds from their spindly stalks into the palm of my hand and snap a few lemon balm stems. Padding back into the house I put on a pot of water and snip a few delicate leaves into a mug. I get out my mortar and pestle and grind the coriander, their seeds simultaneously cracking and releasing their heady scent.

The harvest season is hibernation preparation. It’s time to snip away at the thickets of raspberry, basil, and lemon balm before the frosts claim them. Time to put on your prairie apron and wash, trim, dry, and store so that come winter, your spice drawer won’t look bare.

Herbs can either be frozen or dried, the only difference being that when they are dried, herb flavors
become more concentrated, while frozen herbs can be used in direct proportion to fresh in a recipe. Herbs with a high water content—mint, tarragon, basil, and lemon balm—should preferably be frozen, so there’s no chance of mold creeping in. For both freezing and drying herbs, cleaning and trimming is needed to ensure that your herbs can be used without any further maintenance after you jar them up. Rinse herb leaves delicately in cold water, making sure you check the backsides of leaves for any hidden crusts of dirt,
and trim off any discolored or wilted leaves. I often spin the herbs in a salad spinner and then pat them dry with a towel to make sure there is no moisture for mold to grow.