Wherever I can, I prefer to grow my herbs fresh - it's usually a maximum of 30 minutes from garden to plate. Like my vegetables, I prefer to pick my herbs from compost enriched, chemically-free managed, worm filled soils that are alive. They taste better and I know they are packed with far more nutrients and minerals.
I find that fresh herbs almost always offer the best flavour, and nutritionally they are superior. A lot of vitality, oils and vitamins are lost in drying. Medicinally however sometimes the dried and fresh herbs and spices have different healing qualities.
I really miss my garden while I'm on holidays - having to buy all my herbs and veggies just doesn't feel quite right. Dad's amazing apricots are a wonderful treat, but my meals are not tasting as good as usual. I think tomorrow I will go and find some wild herbs and greens - I've spotted patches of NZ spinach and dandelion already. Being away from my garden makes me appreciate even more the value of having fresh herbs and greens at my fingertips.
|Garlic chives are always in my garden - a lovely addition to most of my meals.|
The flowers are also edible and have a strong garlic flavour - great in salads and as garnishes.
Some herbs I love don't grow all year round but this just make me appreciate them even more when they start to self-seed back in the garden. I don't expect to have everything all year.
Walking through my garden selecting the herbs for the meal is something I love to do and whatever herbs I am drawn to pick is actually my inspiration for many meals. Some days particular herbs just look so much more vibrant than others. Cooking for me is my creative time - a space to experiment and play and to enjoy this process with the kids. For the odd wild card meal, sometimes I send them out with a basket and just see what they bring back before I start.
Fortunately where I live, I can grow most of the herbs I like all year round. Even if you are in a cooler climate, it is possible to extend the growing season by having a few little indoor pots growing on the windowsill. Good herbs for window herbs are thyme, basil, oregano, chives, parsley and the like.
If you cannot grow all year round, preserving herbs in one way or another is an obvious necessity - drying, freezing, making herb pastes...
|The oregano makes a lovely big mound in the garden, but can also be grown in a pot.|
Mine just flowered attracting lots of beneficial insects into the garden.
If you want to dry them, it’s a good idea to dry them fresh each year - just enough to get you through the winter until you can start growing them outside again. Old dry herbs lose their flavour and nutritional benefit. It’s best to compost these and start again.
There are many ways to dry herbs. An easy way for the home gardener is hanging them in bunches upside down in an airy shaded place. In the kitchen is good because the scent is wonderful, but don't hang them where steam can affect them. You can also dry them on home-made screens placed in a dry airy spot - use old picture frames with some fine netting over it. In humid climates like where I live, it would sometimes be necessary to dry them in a herb drier or very low oven for much of the year, otherwise they just go mouldy.
|Prostrate rosemary hangs over the terrace wall and is available any time of the year. |
Oily plants are easier to dry than the watery ones.
To dry herbs pick health fresh leaves after morning dew has evaporated. Hang up the bunches, or spread the herbs thinly on the screens and turn them every few days until they are crisp. Rub the leaves off the stems and store them in a tightly sealed glass jar with a clear label and date. If you see moisture in the jar after a few days - simply tip them out onto the screen again and dry a little longer.
Never dry herbs in the sun as they will lose almost all their goodness.
If you are buying dried herbs, I highly recommend you chose organic herbs becuase organic certification does not allow the irradiation or fumigation of any herbs.
Freezing herbs is an alternative to drying, but again the flavour and nutrition is less and they do go limp when thawed out so not great as garnishes. Many herbs do work well frozen - chives, parsley, basil, mint... To freeze herbs, it’s best to harvest fresh healthy leaves, wash and chop them, and immediately put them in the freezer. A good idea is to make single serve portions of each different herb so they are easier to access - pureed herbs with a little olive oil or water can be made into ice cubes.
Another way to could also make herb pastes and pestos, but this I will leave for another post...