When it comes to herbs, two questions to consider are which herbs need help to survive the winter, and which can be preserved for use in the cold months?
Obviously, annual herbs will pretty much be toast when the first good freeze hits. Since they are mostly water-filled herbaceous matter, they don’t take well to having their little plant cells ruptured. However, most perennial herbs will just die back to the ground and start anew next spring, but one to worry about is rosemary. If the top of a rosemary plant is killed by cold it often will not grow back.
For years, rosemary easily survived our winters, but in the last three to five years it either doesn’t survive or is heavily damaged if the plants are not protected. I suggest covering rosemary plants with some straw or mulch and putting something over or around the mulch to keep those materials in place. You can also cover other herbs for a little added protection.
The next question to consider is have you preserved any herbs? It’s true that earlier in the season probably was the best time, but it’s not too late to preserve some herbs for use this winter. One of the best ways to preserve herbs is to dry them. Assuming we haven’t had a killing frost by the time you read this, get out there and start picking.
Probably the easiest way to dry herbs is with a dehydrator, which works quite well. Clean the herbs of any dust and dirt, remove excess moisture and place in a single layer on the drying tray. In most cases they will dry quickly, in one to four hours, so check them often. The leaves should crumble and the stems break when ready.
Also, sprigs of herbs such as sage, rosemary, and thyme can be tied into bundles and hung up to air dry. While this can be done outdoors, better flavor and color are achieved by doing so inside. With large-leaved plants such as mint, sage or bay leaf you can use a dehydrator or you can remove the leaves and lay them on paper towels then cover with another paper towel. Do this for up to five layers. Leave the herbs on the counter for a few days or place in a cool oven with the oven light on. You can also use the pilot light of a gas oven. In both cases, leave the door cracked for air circulation.
Place any dried herbs in airtight containers and store in a cool, dry and dark area. When cooking with them, remember that dried herbs are three to four times stronger than fresh herbs.
Another fun way to preserve herbs is to make herb cubes. For herbs you don’t want mixed with oil this can be as simple as chopping up mint, chives, parsley or other herbs and placing them in an ice cube tray (make this about one-third full) then covering with water. Once they freeze, pop the herbs out, place them in a plastic bag and put them back in the freezer. Sometimes the herbs will be on the surface so you can also pour less water in, let it freeze and then top off with more water and let freeze.
With herbs such as basil, oregano, sage, chives or parsley you can make a pesto by pureeing the herbs in your food processor with a little olive oil, pour that in an ice cube tray and, once frozen, pop out and bag up. You might need to experiment a little because with too little oil the pesto won’t mix well and with too much it won’t freeze well. Generally, you want a good paste-like mixture.
There are other ways to preserve herbs but all of these can be done quickly before the freeze hits!
Thought for the day: “One who plants a garden, plants happiness.” —Chinese proverb.
For more information about these topics call the Utah State University Extension Grand County office at 259-7558 or email Mike Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.