Growing and preserving culinary herbs at home

June 30, 2015

Growing culinary herbs at home can save you a trip to the grocery store and give you a flavourful alternative to buying packaged herbs. Enjoy a bounty of herbs year-round with these growing and preserving tips.

Growing and preserving culinary herbs at home

Building your home herb garden

Culinary herbs can be grown at home, in pots or garden beds. You may choose to have a designated herb box, but you can also grow them in your vegetable or flower garden. Herbs tend to grow nicely in balcony and window planters, as they need sun to thrive – just make sure that they are well drained.

Popular culinary herbs and spices by cuisine:

  • French: Chives, lemon verbena, marjoram, tarragon, thyme
  • Greek: Chives, basil, marjoram, oregano, sweet basil
  • Italian: Chives, garlic, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, sweet basil
  • Mexican: Chilies, chives, coriander, nasturtiums
  • Thai: Coriander, ginger, lemon basil, lemon grass, mint

Large herbs you can grow at home:

  • Bay tree: Native to the Mediterranean region, bay trees grow to around 10 metres (30 feet) tall, but can be kept clipped as small shrubs. They can also be grown in large tubs as ornamental topiary plants. Use the leaves in bouquet garni, soups, stocks and stews, but remove them before serving.
  • Rosemary: This is an attractive shrub that grows to around 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall, making it ideal for hedges. Add sprigs of rosemary to a lamb roast or use rosemary stalks instead of skewers.

Harvesting and storing home-grown herbs

  • Pick herbs just as they begin to flower. This is the time when the oil content in the leaves is highest, so the taste is at its peak.
  • To allow herbs to dry without attracting mould or mildew, tie the stems and hang them upside down in a warm, airy place. When they are dry, pick off the leaves and store them in an airtight container.
  • To dry herbs in the microwave, place leaves between two sheets of paper towel and cook them on "high" until the leaves become brittle (about one or two minutes, depending on your microwave).
  • To dry herbs in the oven, place leaves on an oven tray and dry on the lowest temperature setting. Herbs can also be dried in home food dehydrators.
  • Some herbs – including basil, parsley and tarragon – keep well when frozen. Pick the herbs, give them a quick wash and then chop the leaves. Put the chopped leaves into ice-cube trays filled with water. When frozen, store the herb cubes in a plastic bag in the freezer, ready to add to any bubbling pot for both flavour and fragrance.

Whatever you are cooking for dinner, chances are the taste will be improved with a burst of flavour from fresh culinary herbs – and even better if the herbs are from your own garden!

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