Gardening: Harvesting and Storing Basil/Herbs

I let the herbs in my garden grow wild for the past month and just hauled in a huge harvest today.  In Thai basil alone, I have made back the cost of starting this year’s garden.  Today’s harvest netted me 18 servings of basil.  Including what I have already picked this year, I probably have 30 servings.  Paying anywhere from $2.50 – $5 a pop in a store, my basil is worth anywhere from $75 – $150.  This is all from one single basil plant and there are a couple more harvests to go before the frost kills the plant.  I’ve also been harvesting and drying rosemary, oregano, and sage to refill my spice bottles.  In fact, I have enough to fill 5 – 10 spice bottles of each!

To store my herbs for future use I either dry them or freeze them.  To dry them I simply wash the cuttings, cluster them in small bouquets, tie the stems together with twine and hang upside down until nice and crispy.  I then strip off the dried leaves and package how I want (whole, crushed, powdered, etc…) .

Some herbs I like to use for stir frying and don’t want them all dried out.  The following technique is how I store fresh leaves for future use, yet maintain the color and integrity of the leaf.

1) Harvest your herbs. 

2) Wash herbs in cool water the same day to prevent wilting and browning.

3) Strip the leaves off the stalk.  I like to pinch the ends of my basil off and keep those intact.  I then strip the rest of the leaves from the stalk.

4) Package the herbs in ziploc bags in single serving sizes.  Single serving meaning enough to make your entire meal from.

5) Add some water to each bag.  The goal is not to fill the bag with water, but to ensure the leaves will be enclosed with water when you seal the bag.  The water will freeze, thus preserving your leaf.  Leaves not exposed to water will turn brown/black and be gross when you thaw them out to use.

6) Flatten the bag, press the air out, and seal.  It is hard to tell in this photo, but there is only water in the bag – no air.  Stack your baggies and freeze them.  When you are ready to use, just thaw the bag out, drain the water and you have the second best thing to fresh herbs to cook with.

What are your tips and techniques for storing herbs and spices?

Frugal Tip of the Day:  If you have a favorite herb that you continually buy, it IS worth it to grow your own.  Herbs are easy to grow and are great container plants.  All my basil came from one single plant, the same for my rosemary and oregano.  You will save quite a bit of money by preserving your own herbs, rather than buying those little spice bottles at 5 bucks a pop.

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