Now is the time to start harvesting and preserving herbs so that you have a good supply during winter. While fresh is always best, the strategy behind preserving herbs is to have them available during those lean months when annuals like basil, coriander, dill and rocket die down, and hardy herbs like oregano, marjoram, sage, parsley and thyme go dormant in colder areas.
By March many herbs are getting ready to flower, which means that they are at their tastiest. Unless you want to harvest the seed, herbs should not be allowed to flower as it leaves the leaves with a bitter taste.
Have you tried harvesting according to the moon? Herbs for drying should be picked during a waning moon. During a waning moon the sap moves down, which means that the stems and leaves dry more easily with less chance of fungus. Pick the leaves and flowers for drying during the morning, between 10:00 and 12:00 noon (by then the dew on the leaves has evaporated). Discard any leaves that are diseased or damaged.
If you are picking for immediate use it is better to harvest during a waxing moon. This is because the sap is rising and the leaves (and fruit and flowers) will be juicier.
Most perennial aromatic herbs retain their flavour when dried. This is the easiest, cheapest and most effective method of preserving them.
Parsley and annuals such as basil, coriander and rocket lose their taste when dried, so it is better to preserve them by making a pesto that can be frozen, or by chopping the leaves and freezing them in ice trays with a little water.
Infused herbal oils and vinegars are another delicious way of preserving herbs. The oil can be used in salad dressings or to flavour cooking.
Herbal vinegar can be made with a single herb or a mixture for a more complex flavour. Use the vinegar in dishes, marinades and salad dressings, and when grilling meat.
How to dry herbs
Drying herbs can be as simple as putting them on brown paper in a cool room. Alternatively, tie the herbs in a bunch, hang them up and put a brown paper bag over them before tying that up as well. The paper bag keeps dust and insects off the herbs and collects any loose pieces as they dry. Remember to label and date the airtight containers that you put them into once dry.
An even quicker way to preserve the freshness of herbs is to chop the leaves finely and add just enough olive oil to cover them, and then store the mixture in a sterilised, airtight container in the refrigerator. This mixture doesn’t last as long as the frozen pesto, so use it up quickly. Just add a dollop to the dish as you are cooking. Using this method you can combine herbs to make an Italian mix (basil, marjoram and parsley), chicken mix (sage, lemon thyme or rosemary, plus parsley, chives and garlic), pizza mix (oregano, chives and parsley) or a stir fry mix (coriander, lemon thyme, parsley and chives).