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Preserving and Cooking with Herbs

Sources for generic and individual uses: Brooklyn Botanic Garden Record, Herbs & Cooking, Cooking with Herbs; Washington Cathedral Greenhouse;Fruits of the Forest, Cooking with Wild Food, Sue Style; Herbs, A Country Garden Cookbook, Rosalind Creasy and Carole Saville. 

Note:  Herbs are so easy to preserve and add so much to cooking that it is hard to imagine not using them.  Even if you don't grow your own, buy them in season from your local farmer's market.  Or, preserve them using some the methods described below.   See also Freezing Herbs.

Some Generic Tips

Individual Herb Uses

Lemon Balm
1. Chop some lemon balm and mint leaves together and freeze them into ice cubes to serve with lemonade or iced tea.

2. Add chopped lemon balm to any green or fruit salad with an oil and vinegar dressing.

1. Sprinkle minced over a roast of lamb.

2. Marinate lamb cubes for shishkebobs for an hour in rosemary vinegar with a bit of crushed garlic.

3. Slip a sprig under the skin of chicken before grilling or roasting.

1. Wrap sorrel leaves around fish scallops and steam 3-4 minutes. Serve with a lime butter sauce.

2. Keep a chiffonade (minced leaves, stems and coarse midribs removed) cooked with a little unsalted butter in refrigerator for use in soups, sauces, or as toppings for baked potato, greens, or poached fish. Or, puree and freeze for later use. Add at last minute of cooking to retain green color.

3.  Sorrel is a cool-weather perennial and, with the right weather conditions, will mature when  spring lettuce is available.  Use sparingly in early season salads , stir fried dishes, and seafood sauces.

1. This cook's favorite use is to preserve in herbal vinegar and use with some water for steaming fresh greens.

2. Puree handful of tarragon with a fat shallot, some oil (walnut, if you have it) and white wine vinegar, some orange zest and freshly squeezed orange juice. Serve sauce with pork or lamb.

3. Add chopped tarragon to fresh lemon juice, garlic and olive oil and marinate fish (firm-fleshed, like halibut, salmon, haddock, or redfish) for up to 3 hours.

4. Add chopped tarragon to stuffed eggs.

1. Mix a few sprigs with some rosemary, sprinkle over small or quartered potatoes (skin on) and some garlic, and fry in some olive oil, and cook covered till done. Uncover for browning.  Or,  sprinkle potatoes with herbs and some olive oil and bake in a 375 oven till fork-tender (about 25 minutes).

2. Thyme is good in au gratin dishes, with eggs, cooked with butternut squash, and in many sauces.

3.  For a creole or cajun seasoning , thyme is an essential ingredient!

Herb Oil

One author (Fruits of the Forest, Cooking with Wild Food, Sue Style) recommends using sage for basting meats, especially pork; wild marjoram oil for salads, especially tomato; rosemary for lamb. She has a blend called 'Scarborough Fair' (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) that she uses for any meats.   Her recipe calls for 4 cloves of bruised garlic, but experts warn against including garlic, because it can breed bacteria if not canned.  Olive oil tends to congeal when refrigerated, so that is not an option either. 

chosen herb(s), flowering if you wish
16 oz olive oil
1 qt tasteless salad oil

1. Do not wash herbs unless mud-splashed. If you must wash them, be sure they are dry before you put them in the jar with the oil, otherwise it will become cloudy.
2. Loosely pack into large jar with tight fitting lids. Add garlic if using and pour mixture of olive and salad oil to cover herbs completely.
3. Cover and leave in dark, cool place for at least a month, turning gently once in a while.
4. Once oil is well flavored, strain through colander into large container. Strain through muslin (jelly bag?) and pour into clean, dry clear bottles with cork.

Herb Vinegar

Source: Oregon Extension Service, Carol Savonen

Herb vinegars are easy and fun to make and can be given as elegant holiday
gifts. They are welcome additions to salad dressings, sauces, meat dishes
and cooked vegetables.

All it takes to produce herb vinegar is some garden-fresh herbs, clean
glass jars and lids, vinegar and some containers to put the vinegar into
when it is done, explained Nellie Oehler, home economist with the Oregon
State University Extension Service.

"A great variety of herbs can be used to make flavored vinegars,
either by themselves or in combinations," said Oehler. "Mint,
basil, tarragon, dill, oregano and chives all are popular.

"Use about 3-4 sprigs of fresh herbs or three tablespoons dried
herbs for each pint of vinegar," she said. "The new leaves at
the tip of an herb plant are usually the most flavorful."

Oehler recommends the following procedure for making herb vinegars:

Sterilize glass containers such as quart or gallon jars by boiling
for 10 minutes. Sterilization inhibits microorganisms that cloud herb vinegars.
Insert the desired amount of herbs into a sterilized glass jar and
fill the jar with the vinegar of choice.

Distilled white and apple cider vinegar are most affordable, but apple
cider's amber color may not be as desirable for light colored herbs. White
wine vinegar is more expensive, but has a very smooth flavor.

Put a pint of vinegar in the jar per each three to four sprigs of fresh
herbs. The vinegar may be added either hot or cold. ;Some people prefer
to heat the vinegar to just below the boiling point and then pour the hot
vinegar over the herbs,; said Oehler. ;Others like the flavor
better when cold vinegar is added.

Tightly cap the jar. Plastic lids or corks make the best seals, as
metal jar tops will rust. Store your herb vinegar in a cool, dark place
for several weeks. After the desired flavor is reached, filter the vinegar
and put it into sterilized smaller containers for gifts or use in your
own kitchen.

Add a sprig of fresh herb for appearance. Or leave the vinegar unfiltered.
Citrus rind, garlic, peppers or peppercorns can also add unique flavors
to herbal vinegars.

Label your vinegar with the type of base vinegar used, the flavoring
ingredient and the date. Use the vinegar up within three to four months
for best quality.

Herb Teas

When the Boston Tea Party left black tea floating in the Boston harbor, colonists turned to herbal teas, naming them liberty teas.  Use 1 T fresh or 1 t dried herbs for each cup of boiling water and should be steeped for 3-5 minutes before straining.   Creasy and Saville recommend rinsing the teapot first with boiling water.   Their Chamomile Tisane calls for crushing a couple thin slices of apple before adding the herbs and water. German Chamomile has an apple scent and is used as a nerve and sleep tonic. Other ideas from their cookbook:  strawberries and orange juice with spearmint, lavender with freshly squeezed lemon juice.