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Harvest your herbs before the frost comes

10/22/2013 5:40 AM

10/22/2013 5:40 AM

With the cold weather upon us, if you haven’t harvested your herbs, now

is the time before the frost.

I started a month ago drying some sage and basil. Tonight I will freeze all I can. Here are a few suggestions for harvesting and preserving herbs.

Many herbs can be kept up to a week or more by placing them between two damp paper towels in a plastic bag and storing them in the refrigerator. Herbs with long stems can be kept in the refrigerator for a few days in a vase of cool water covered with plastic wrap.

Warning: Do not put fresh basil in the refrigerator — it will turn black. Basil is best stored in a vase of cool water on the counter or windowsill.

Another method of storing fresh herbs is in the freezer. Chop clean, dry herbs into small pieces with scissors or a knife, flash freeze them on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and then transfer them to a freezer bag or container.

Chopped herbs can also be put into ice cube trays, adding just enough water to cover. When frozen, transfer herbed ice cubes to freezer bags, adding later to soups and stews. I use a little bit of olive oil to the water and it helps keep them greener. Quite frankly, I stir the herbs with the oil and some water in a bowl first then place a tablespoon of each in the trays.

Air drying often preserves herbs. Tie together small bundles of fresh herbs and hang upside down in a well ventilated area until dried and easily crushed. Transfer to an airtight container until needed.

Here is a little history on a couple of herbs that I harvest:

• Oregano: The Greeks made poultices from the leaves, using them on sores and aching muscles. Oregano has a hot peppery flavor best known for use in all type of tomato dishes.

• Rosemary: In ancient Greece, rosemary was thought to improve one’s memory; students wore garlands of rosemary when studying for exams. Rosemary has a strong, pungent taste and should be added in moderation so not to overpower the other flavors in foods.

• Sage: In ancient times sage was associated with longevity and increased mental capacity. Use as a flavoring for soups and salads, or in combination with port and fish dishes. A favorite of mine is dried sage in my dressing at Thanksgiving and I use lots.

With Christmas right around the corner, what a great gift to give: herbs from your garden.

Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.

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