Growing And Storing Herbs
How to Grow Herbs at Home
Growing herbs at home is easy and satisfying, as well as economical. If you purchase herbs in bunches at grocery stores, they can cost upwards of $2.00 each, and few people manage to use the entire bunch before it goes bad. It is far more resourceful to have a pot of herbs growing from which you can snip just the amount you need as you need it. Growing herbs at home is simple to do both indoors and out. Choose a sunny spot outside or a room or window inside that gets a lot of direct sunlight. You can also use grow lights, which allow you to grow herbs just about anywhere.
Place herbs in individual pots or save space by planting a variety of them together in larger pots. Chances are you won't require much more than a few sprigs at a time anyway. You can easily start herbs from seeds or seedling plants and a short time later, you can reap the benefits of your plantings. If planting herbs is not an option for you, you can purchase a bunch and keep them in a cool place, in a glass of water much like a bouquet of flowers, often for weeks at a time.
How to Store Herbs
Trim the bottoms of the stems and place the herbs in a glass or vase large enough to hold them securely, making certain that nothing but the bottom half of the stems are touching the water. Place the glass of herbs in a window or a sunny part of your kitchen and snip the leaves from the top as needed. When the water begins to discolor, replace it with fresh water. You can cover the tops of the herbs loosely with plastic wrap to retain some moisture, or just spritz them regularly with water to keep them moist.
Improper herb storage is often the culprit in the short lived existence of most purchased herbs. Too much moisture, extreme temperatures, and other unfavorable environments can greatly affect the life and quality of fresh herbs. When purchasing, look for herbs with fresh looking leaves that are not wilted and do not have brown, slimy, or moldy spots. Drier, woody herbs like rosemary, sage, and thyme should be placed in a perforated plastic bag or wrapped loosely in plastic wrap and stored in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. They should last about a week. Leafier herbs, like parsley and cilantro are more susceptible to moisture and cold. Wrap these herbs in a slightly damp paper towel and place them in a perforated plastic bag. You can also store them in a crisper drawer, preferably set for low humidity.
Most herbs do quite well when frozen or dried. This is a good storage solution if you have a bumper crop of herbs. Freezing herbs maintains color and flavor as well as most of their nutritive properties, although they become limp when thawed and retain their taste only when used with cooked foods.
Some people recommend blanching the leaves and then drying them well before freezing. The easiest way is to simply pick the leaves from the stems and wash and dry them well (a salad spinner works great for this). If you are planning on crumbling the leaves once they are frozen, you can place them in plastic bags and, once frozen, crumble them into tiny pieces. If you intend to use leaves individually, spread them onto a paper towel lined baking tray and place the tray in the freezer. Once the herbs are frozen, you can place them in a bag or storage container where they won't stick together. The herbs last for up to six months before their quality begins to diminish. Frozen herbs should be used straight out of the freezer and added to your food at the last minute.
Drying herbs is also a good storage solution, although it does not retain as much of the pure flavor or nutrients as freezing does. Drying can be done indoors or out and is usually done by way of laying herbs on a rack or tying them in bunches and hanging them to be dried by circulating air. Herbs can also be dried in an electric dehydrator or in the microwave. Dried herbs last about a year in an air tight container before their flavor fades. A ratio of 1:3 should be used when substituting dried herbs for fresh.
About the Author
After receiving degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Culinary Institute of America, Andrea Rappaport moved into a full-time career in the restaurant business. For over 12 years, she worked in various culinary jobs, including as a cook for Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and ultimately as the executive chef and partner of the highly revered San Francisco restaurant Zinzino. For the past seven years, Andrea has worked as the private chef for one family in the San Francisco area, and continues to expand her culinary portfolio by catering, teaching, and consulting.