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Waste not, want not (herbs, that is)

The impending cool weather will soon mean the end of herb gardens - unless you preserve them! A few quick and easy ways to keep your herbs through the winter.

It’s getting to that time of year that every time I go into my backyard I want to cry out to my garden, “No! Don’t leave me!” We had a rough start this year, with my plants starting small and my basil in particular failing to thrive. It took three rounds of plantings to accomplish the lovely basil plants I have been carefully picking leaves from.

In past years, I have let my herbs go, using them until the final freeze the plants can’t recover from, and then buying herbs at the supermarket when I want them. The problem is, I always want them. So this year I’ve decided I’m getting serious and not letting my beautiful herbs go to waste.

My favorite trick for keeping basil for the winter is to pick the leaves and rinse them, then lay them out relatively flat in a Ziploc bag and place the whole thing in the freezer. When the time comes to use them, I simply take out the bag and break off a little segment, slice it up and throw it in whatever I’m cooking. The real beauty of this method is that when cooked, these shreds of the basil keep the lovely quality of just-picked basil leaves rather than disappearing the way packaged flakes seem to.

Another easy to preserve herb is mint – we planted some years ago and it has proceeded to overtake it’s area of the yard, so there is plenty to pick. Mint is considered a tender leaf herb, and has a higher moisture content than some. To dry, pick a small amount of stems and rubber band together inside a paper bag with holes punched it in. Hang somewhere with air flow and your stems should dry nicely. Anything that falls off gets caught in the bag rather than ending up all over your floor and at the end, you just break off the dry leaves and pack them away in an airtight bag or container. Mint is great for flavoring, and adds a lovely, fresh feel – try crumbling a few leaves into a fresh oil and vinegar salad dressing for a change.

Dried herbs are typically 3-4 times stronger in flavor than fresh herbs, so use your preserved herbs the way you would any other dried herb My goal this fall is to ‘waste not, want now’ – I won’t let my beautiful herbs go to waste, so this winter I’m neither running back and forth from the supermarket (and making my refrigerator look like a rain forest of fresh herbs) nor wishing I hadn’t let my herbs go.

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