This year, for the first time in my life, I found myself living in a place with a small amount of outdoor space. Seeing as I’ve never had to worry about such a thing, I assumed that anything I planted would be dead in a month. I manage to exceed my expectation by killing everything in less than a week, after which I decided to fill my garden entirely with herbs. They’re resilient bastards that manage to stay alive despite my constant neglect, and they’re useful to boot. Surely nothing could go wrong.
Now that we’re nearing the end of summer, I’ve discovered the flaw in my plans: I have a small overgrown field of herbs and absolutely no idea what to do with them. I bought ten rosemary plants because they repel mosquitos, and I don’t even like rosemary. I have a gigantic canopy of basil that is now home to a street gang of feral cats. I, for some reason, have three marjoram plants. I didn’t even need one marjoram plant, but now I have to figure out something to do with three. This is the plan of attack I’ve devised thus far.
Grab a few hangers and a spool of butcher's twine. Gather up bundles of herbs–an inch thick is a good size–then tie them to the hanger so they dangle upside down. Place in a dry, well ventilated place for a few days until they've shriveled up, then pluck the leaves off their stems for storage. This method can be used for all herbs, though it works best for those with woody stems like rosemary and thyme.
If you don’t have room to be dangling herbs everywhere, or don’t trust yourself to air-dry delicate leafy types like parsley or cilantro, quick-dry them all in your oven. Preheat it to the lowest possible temperature. Line baking sheets with paper towels, and spread your herbs across in one layer. Place in the oven, immediately turn off the heat, and put the oven light on. Check your herbs after 3 hours, then every 30 minutes until you’ve got them where you want them.
Use them up:
Keep in small jars or plastic baggies in a cabinet away from the stove to use in soups, stews, marinades, and rubs.
Put a few tablespoons into a bottle of cheap vinegar to make your own fancy, expensive-tasting infused vinegar.
Hang bundles in your closet to help freshen the air and keep moths at bay. Satchels of fragrant herbs like lemon verbena and thyme can be placed in clothing drawers and linen closets.
If you find yourself with more herbs than you could possibly use yourself, mix up your own blends of herbal teas and spice rubs, package in small jars and use for holiday gifts.
In most of my recipes I prefer using fresh herbs over dried, which would be impossible (or expensive) in the winter if it wasn’t for the freezer.
Chop your herbs as finely as possible, then mix them with melted butter or a neutral oil (like canola) to make a thick paste. Place one tablespoon portions into ice cube trays, freeze until solid pop out and place in a zip-top freezer bag. If you don’t have an ice cube tray, spread out a thin layer in a lined baking pan, freeze, cut into small pieces and store in a freezer bag or airtight container.
Use them up:
Mount pan sauces using herb cubes instead of butter.
Stir into slow cooker dishes just before serving.
Thaw out large quantities to make pesto.