Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Checking in on your Herb Garden!

By Chef/Farmer Andrea

It’s been almost three months since we delivered herb packs, so I wanted to check in and see how your gardens are doing!  Whether you planted your herbs in pots or in a garden space, I hope you have had success with your plants this year and are flooded with herbs!  This week I want to offer some suggestions for how to use herbs in larger volume in your summer cooking, with hopes of making the most out of your herb gardening efforts.  I will also offer some suggestions for ways you can preserve your herbs so you can continue to enjoy them and reap their benefits throughout the winter.

Most of the time we use herbs in smaller quantities as a flavoring. Perhaps we top off a bowl of soup or a salad with some chopped parsley or add a tablespoon or two of oregano to our tomato sauce.  When your plants are really growing in the peak of their season, a tablespoon or sprig here and there just doesn’t cut it!  While we do often use herbs as a flavor enhancer, we can also use them in volume and treat them more like a vegetable.  Consider salads such as Tabbouleh.  Tabbouleh is a Lebanese salad that is based on parsley and mint with lesser amounts of bulgur, tomatoes, lemon, etc.  Instead of using tablespoons of parsley, you use cups of parsley!  So if your parsley is going crazy right now, make a bowl of this fresh salad!  I also like to make simple vegetable salads throughout the summer and fall that are heavy on herbs, such as a Carrot Parsley Salad that is nothing more than shredded carrots, lots of chopped fresh parsley and a light lemon vinaigrette.

There are other ways to use larger quantities of herbs.  Pesto is something most people are familiar with.  If your basil plant has become a bush, it’s time to trim it back and make a big batch of basil pesto.  You’d be surprised at how much basil you can use in a single batch!  If you have the potential to make more pesto than you can consume right now, reach for your full potential and make extra.  You can easily freeze it in small jars or ice cube trays so you have it available to use throughout the winter.  Pull some out and add it to pasta sauce, soup, spread it on pizza crust and bread or make a quick pasta dish with it.

Chimichurri is an Argentinian herb sauce-type preparation that is based on parsley and oregano.  It’s a delicious accompaniment to grilled meat, but I also like to toss roasted potatoes and root vegetables with it just before serving them.

Of course you can use your fresh herbs to make flavorful vinaigrettes, add them to egg dishes such as frittatas, quiche and egg casseroles, use them in marinades or to season roasted meats, and don’t forget adding them to green smoothies!  But even with an intentional effort to incorporate more herbs into your meals, it can be hard to keep up with your garden.  So lets transition our thinking to preservation.  The most obvious way to preserve herbs is by drying them.  Some herbs retain their flavor better when dried than others.  Parsley, thyme, sage, savory and oregano are good candidates for drying.  When you’re ready, go ahead and harvest a large quantity.  I dry them on the stem, but you could pull the leaves off the stem before you dry them.  You can lay them out in a single layer either on dehydrator sheets if you’re using a low heat dehydrator or on cookie sheets if you are using a low heat oven.  I also sometimes make little bundles of herbs and tie off the stem end with a rubber band to hold the bunch together.  Then I hang the bunches on hooks in my kitchen to let them air dry. If you do this, make sure they are in a good location with adequate airflow and out of direct sunlight.  Once your herbs are dry, strip the leaves off the stems, crush the leaves into smaller pieces if you wish, and put them in a jar or sealed bag to retain their flavor as you use them throughout the winter.  Basil can be dried as well, although personally I don’t care for dried basil and prefer to preserve it in the form of pesto to retain more of that fresh basil flavor.  I don’t have any experience drying chervil, so I can’t offer any expertise on the outcome.  If you’ve had success with drying chervil, please let me know!

Herb Salt, photo from
I do know chervil would be a good herb to preserve in the form of herbed butter!  Herbed Butter is also called Compound Butter.  You can make it with any mix of herbs you have in your garden.  It’s great to have in the refrigerator to use when making scrambled eggs, melt it over steamed vegetables, use it in sauces for pasta, melt a pat on top of grilled steak or fish, or just simply spread it on warm bread! You can use it fresh, but it can also be frozen.  It really is fun to find some frozen herb butter in the freezer in the middle of winter!  I’ve included a recipe with this article to guide you in the proportions.  You can also make Herb Salt.  You can make individual herb salts or blend some of the herbs you have available to make your own custom blends.  These also make great Christmas gifts!

Herb oils and herb vinegars are also ways to preserve herbs.  Mountain Rose Herbs has some great information on their blog about how to make Herbal Vinegar.  They also have a lot of great information about making Herb Infused Culinary Oils as well as Bath Salts and more!

Herb Infused Honey
While we often think of herbs mostly in the context of culinary use, the herbs in our herb packs also have medicinal properties.  Two years ago Jean Schneider wrote a great article for us about Fall Herb Preservation & Ways to Use Culinary Herbs Medicinally.  Jean is a longtime HVF supporter and is a herbalist at Nativa Medica.  In her article she offered suggestions for how to make Sage Infused Honey as well as how to use Sage and Thyme as teas to keep us healthy through the winter.  The Latin name for garden sage actually means “healing plant.”  While it’s a tasty culinary herb, it can also help ward off colds and soothe sore throats as it has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties.  Thyme is also beneficial for supporting respiratory health and enhancing immunity.  These are just a few examples of how your culinary herb garden can also be your medicinal herb garden.

Some of the herbs in your herb pack are perennials, meaning they are more winter hardy and can survive the winter.  Sage, thyme, oregano and savory are perennials.  Basil, chervil and parsley are annuals and most likely will not survive the winter.  To increase the chances of winter survival, we recommend putting some mulch around the base of your perennial herb plants.  You can use straw or even just dried leaves.  Don’t totally cover the plant, just tuck some mulch around the base to buffer the base from the cold and cover the bare ground.

I hope I’ve given you a few ideas for ways to maximize your herbs as we enjoy the last few weeks of summer and prepare for fall and winter.  It’s hard to imagine that those spindly little plants we delivered back in May can produce enough product for us to enjoy both now and throughout the winter!  Have fun using and preserving your herbs and as always, we invite you to send us pictures and emails about what you’re doing.  Our Facebook Group is another great place to share your projects and pictures!

Herb Butter

Yield: ¾ cup

Stir together in a small bowl, mixing well:
  • 8 Tbsp (1 stick) butter, softened
  • ½ cup chopped herbs (such as parsley, chervil, etc)
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • Salt and fresh-ground pepper
  • A pinch of cayenne
Taste and adjust the salt and lemon as needed.

  • Chopped shallots and pounded garlic are delicious additions.
  • For a more lemony flavor, add some finely grated lemon zest.
  • For a more pungent butter that is perfect with corn on the cob, flavor with dried chile peppers, soaked, drained, and pounded to a paste.
This recipe comes from The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters.  You can use this butter fresh, but I’d recommend using it within a week of making it.  Herbed butter is also a good way to preserve the fresh flavor of herbs and can be frozen.  Pack it in small jars or roll it into logs.  While the butter is still soft, lay out a sheet of parchment or waxed paper.  Using a knife, spread the butter in the middle of the paper and form it into a log shape.  Lay the paper over the butter and gently roll the butter to form a log.  Twist the ends of the log and then either wrap it in plastic wrap or put it in a freezer bag.  Pop it in the freezer and pull it out whenever you’re ready to use it!

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