Quarantine Herbs

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What we did during quarantine will be topics of conversations for years to come. One group I belong to always asks, "What is the 'silver lining' to your time at home? Did you learn something new or do something different?"

One answer I’ve heard from many people is that they liked to garden or planted herbs and vegetables. One seed company reported that they were selling ten times the seeds they normally sold. I didn’t go all out and plant a vegetable garden, but I did start some herb seeds in a container garden on my deck.

Now these plants are producing. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but too many herbs can be a problem too. Most herbs only stay fresh for a short time after harvest. They tend to wilt or get slimy and nasty quickly unless stored correctly.

The best bet it to try and harvest them as you need them for a specific recipe. If you’re picking to preserve, get them early in the day. Most herbs tend to lose their flavor as they flower, so pick frequently to prevent flowering or remove the flower heads.

Most herbs keep in the refrigerator for a few days to a week. Roll a single layer of herbs in a damp paper towel and place in an open or perforated plastic bag in the refrigerator.

A good way to store herbs like cilantro, basil, and parsley is in a glass of water like you would put flowers in a vase. Place a plastic bag loosely over the top, then place the glass of herbs in the refrigerator. Some herbs (such as basil) don’t do well in cold, so they can be left on the kitchen counter. As you would with flowers, change this water frequently.

Did you harvest more than you can use in a short time? You can freeze them!

According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, all you need to do to freeze herbs is wash them, drain them, and pat them dry with paper towels. Then wrap a few sprigs or leaves in freezer wrap and place in a freezer bag, seal, and freeze. That's it!

Frozen herbs can be chopped and used in cooked dishes, but they're not usually  suitable for garnish, as the frozen product becomes limp when it thaws. Parsley doesn’t do well when frozen because it tends to get strong "off" flavors when frozen and basil will turn dark.

You can also dry herbs for later use. In some locations you can dry herbs simply by leaving them in a well-ventilated area until the moisture evaporates. I recently had some sage from my CSA that I just couldn’t use and it was beginning to get dark. I was successful drying it in the microwave. (This works great when you only have a small amount).

To dry herbs in a microwave, wash and place them on a paper towel in the microwave oven. All the instructions I’ve read said if you have a 1000 watt or higher microwave it just has too much power and will burn the herbs (and possibly the paper towels, too). To avoid this, I used just 50% power in my 1200 watt microwave doing just doing 30 seconds at a time for about 2-3 minutes. My herbs weren’t completely dry when I took them out, but they then continued to dry on the counter. Do be careful when doing this -- don’t leave the kitchen and go slowly (because of the small amount of dry food in the microwave there is a risk of fire).

When using herbs in a recipe the ratio is usually 3:1 fresh to dried. If a recipe calls for 3 tablespoons of fresh herbs, you can use just 1 tablespoon of dry herbs.

I’ll be harvesting the benefits of my quarantine seeds all through the season and into the winter. That’s my silver lining.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

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