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Drying and preserving herbs!

Herbs taste best fresh, but most of them die back as the days get shorter, so you might like to try your hand at drying or preserving some for the winter. Mediterranean herbs especially retain a lot of flavour when they’re dried. The leaves develop their strongest flavour just before the plant flowers, so that’s the time to pick them. Shower them off the day before, so that they don’t have to be washed after picking. Pick the herbs in the afternoon when the plants are just about wilting. Hang them up to dry in a coolish, dry place.

After drying, the aroma of the herbs can be effectively preserved by storing them in oil. To do this, rub off the dried leaves, chop or crumble them small, mix them with fine salt (1 teaspoon of salt to 100 g dried herbs). Fill the mixture into a screwtop jar, pour in oil to cover the herbs, knock the jar gently to get rid of air bubbles and screw on the lid. Store in the fridge, where it will keep for several months as long as you top up the oil when necessary to keep the herbs covered.

Alternatively you can freeze herbs. Chop them finely, press into ice cube trays, fill up with water and freeze. The frozen herb cubes can be stored in a plastic bag and added directly to a dish as it’s cooking, or defrost and add to salad dressing.

There are a lot of advantages in having your own herb garden.

Aromatic herbs taste best when they’re freshly picked. They’re full of healthy nutrients and often have medicinal uses.
You don’t need a huge amount of space to grow these power plants – a window sill, a balcony, a patio or part of your garden.

Most European herbs can be grown easily from seed. Start them in seed compost in a tray or small pots on a warm window-sill and pot them on or plant them out once they’re big enough. Parsley, lovage and celery, which are slow to germinate and grow are best bought as seedlings. All herbs love the sun, so make sure your herb bed isn’t shaded by trees or bushes. A light, sandy soil will produce the most aromatic herbs. Mediterranean herby should always be bought as seedlings or in pots. Cut back the perennial herbs rigorously in late autumn and protect them from frost with a mulch of bark or straw.


Some popular herbs:

Basil: Aromatic, spicy, slightly sweet taste and a strong smell. Perfect with tomatoes, pasta, Mediterranean vegetables, mince, fish and salads. Basil is rarely cooked with a dish, because heat tends to destroy its flavour. Basil stimulates appetite and promotes good digestion. Grows easily in pots on balconies and windowsills.


Rosemary: Strongly aromatic, slightly bitter, resiny taste. Perfect with grilled and pot-roasted foods. Adds flavour to potatoes, lamb, fish and poultry. Rosemary has an antibacterial effect and helps with stomach and intestinal problems. Rosemary is easy to grow – even in a pot. It needs little water, but lots of sun, and prefers chalky soil.


Chives: Chives belong to the onion family. They’re the typical windowsill herb. With their sharp, oniony smell and taste, chives liven up salads, cream cheese, quark, egg dishes and herb sauces. Add them at the end of cooking so that they’ll keep their fresh taste and colour. Chives strengthen your immune system and contain a lot of vitamin A. They grow best in fertile, clay soils. The flowers are also edible.

Parsley: Parsley is a universal herb, it teams up well with almost any other herbs, with potatoes, cream cheese dishes, meat and fish. Flat-leafed and curly-leafed parsley taste slightly different and they’re both better freshly chopped. Parsley aids digestion and has a diuretic effect. It’s easy to grow in pots and it flowers in the second year.


Thyme: Thyme tastes slightly resiny, bitter and aromatic. It’s good in salads and stews, and combines well with garlic and meat. On the medicinal side, it is effective in soothing coughs. Thyme can be used fresh or dried, and its powerful flavour will survive cooking. Grow thyme on your windowsill, on your balcony or in your garden. Bees love its tiny pinkish flowers.


Mint: Mint comes in many varieties and it’s a versatile herb. It tastes fresh and aromatic as a tea, in salads, and combined with foods as different as yoghurt, lamb and strawberries. The menthol compounds in the volatile oils are antiseptic, soothing and antispasmodic. Most windowsills will be too warm for mint, but it will flourish if it’s kept moist in a pot on a shady balcony.