The time is ripe for enjoying fresh herbs

Posted: Sunday, September 01, 2002

I hope your herbs did as well as mine did this year. If you haven't been enjoying your herbs all summer long, it is time. It also is time to think about harvesting and drying some for use this winter.

We don't have an Alaska Extension publication on herbs, so when I need information I turn to the "Herbal Pocket Primer," by Debbie Carlson.

If you plan to use the herb leaves fresh, Carlson suggests harvesting in the morning while the essential oils are the best. Fresh leaves are best before the flowering stage of the plant.

If you are doing your final fall harvest of perennial herbs, take no more than one-third of the plant leaving the remaining growth to harden before winter.

For annuals, harvest only the healthiest growth.

There are several ways to dry herbs. Tying or bunching the stems together with rubber bands and hanging upside down works well. Be sure to keep them out of the sun, in a dry, well-ventilated room. Hanging bundles of herbs for decoration looks nice but the herbs loose flavor rapidly and gather dust. Herbs also can be placed on screens to dry. Some sources do not recommend drying herbs in a conventional or microwave oven because the high heat will damage the herbs.

When the leaves are dry, gently rub the leaves off the stems. Store the herbs in whole-leaf form. Do not crumble the leaves until it is time to use them. Store in tightly sealed containers in a dark, cool place or refrigerate or freeze.

In recipes that call for fresh herbs, substitute one-third to one-half as much dried herb as fresh. Begin with one-third and add more as needed.

Here are two of my favorite recipes from the "Herbal Pocket Primer."

Alfredo Skinny Sauce

2 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic

2 tablespoon flour

1 1/2 cup of low-fat cottage cheese

1/2 cup of skim or low-fat milk

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh (minced)

1/2 teaspoon dried mustard

salt and pepper to taste

Blend cottage cheese and milk until smooth. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add garlic and cook only briefly. Lower heat. Sprinkle in flour and cook three minutes. Add cottage cheese and milk mixture and stir well. Add lemon juice, basil, dry mustard, salt and pepper. Heat through. Serve over pasta or vegetables.

Mint Sauce (great on lamb!)

4 tablespoons water

3 tablespoons powdered sugar

1/2 cup very finely chopped mint, fresh

2 tablespoons vinegar

Bring water and sugar to a boil until thickened. Remove from heat. Add mint and vinegar. Let cool and allow flavors to blend before serving. Strain if desired.

Linda Tannehill is an agent at the Alaska Cooperative Extension Office. She is a home economist and involved in the 4-H/Youth Development programs. The Kenai Peninsula District Extension Office is at 43961 Kalifornsky Beach Road, Suite A, Soldotna, AK. The phone number is 262-5824 or toll-free at (800) 478-5824.

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