August is a month when we enjoy the bounty of our work in the vegetable garden, but we can also extend the season for our herbs by drying and preserving them. There’s nothing like a taste of summer in the middle of winter with some fresh pesto on pasta or your own dried sage on the Thanksgiving turkey!
Herbs can be preserved in several ways. Harvest cuttings early in the day, then rinse and pat completely dry. The easiest way to dry herbs is to make loose bunches and hang them in a dry, dark place with good air circulation until the leaves are brittle. To dry cuttings in an oven, make a single layer on a shallow cookie sheet (I like to set a cooling rack on the cookie sheet for even drying) and place in a 180-degree F oven for two to four hours, checking regularly. Dried herbs can be crushed by hand or in a small coffee grinder (used only for herbs), and should be stored in glass containers in a dark cabinet; make sure that the leaves are completely dry before storing so they don’t get moldy.
Another way to preserve herbs is to freeze them. After harvesting and washing, blanch stems or leaves in boiling water for about one minute, then shock in ice water. Pat dry and store in plastic freezer bags. Some herbs—including dill and chives—can go directly from the garden to the freezer without blanching.
My favorite method for freezing herbs is to make ice cubes. Coarsely chop fresh, clean herbs and pack loosely into ice cube trays. Add enough water to cover then freeze. Store the frozen cubes in freezer bags. Olive oil can also be used instead of water. Cubes of thyme, basil, and oregano are great additions to a midwinter soup or stew for a pop of flavor, or make some cubes with mint or lemon balm to use now in mojitos, iced tea, and lemonade!