Taking Stock of the Herb Pantry

anise-hyssop-basil-red-pepper-jars-compressed While it continues to be grey and cold, it’s a good time to take stock of the culinary herb supply.  There’s still time to make adjustments to the planting plans and increase or decrease the number of plants needed.  Starting with the herb shelves, it is obvious that there is an ample supply of anise hyssop (on the left) because I don’t use it very often. I mostly grow it for the butterflies, the pretty purple flowers, and the scent.  It’s a perennial, but since I still have an almost-full jar, there should be plenty already in the garden for next harvest. That’s not the case with basil (center.)  It should be noted that one jar of basil has already been emptied, and this last jar has to last until there are new seedlings in the flats to snip, usually the very end of May.  I always start enough basil seed so that I can begin using some fresh and still have plenty of plants to put in the potager.  Looking at my notes, I admit I grew plenty of basil, but I was a bit tardy in getting it all harvested before the nights got too cold.  So, the same number of plants as last year should be sufficient and I must be more vigilant with harvesting.  Two jars are usually sufficient for us, but some years I do three so there is enough for “housewife’s tea.”  The last jar is dried red hot peppers, still full because we used up a half-pint jar first, and I have a spice jar of dried peppers that were ground that I tend to use more often. oregano-basil-parsley-jars-compressed  That’s oregano on the left, and it appears I should have dried more.  We use it mostly in tomato sauce, pizza, and lasagne, but it is useful to combat colds and this has been a bad season for colds.  Obviously I need to let my perennial oregano plant spread a bit more so I’ll get a larger harvest next fall.  Center jar is winter savory, which is great in any bean dish, and with pork.  It’s also a perennial, so I won’t need to add plants.  I also grow summer savory, which I tend to use fresh.  The jar on the right is parsley, and unfortunately, it’s almost empty.  There was another jar used before this one, which tells you we use a LOT of parsley because I was able to harvest fresh parsley from the potager until Christmas and only began using the dried after that.  I’ll add another 6 plants to the planting plan.

mint-rosemary-sage-jars-compressed  These are peppermint, rosemary, and sage.  I had a jar of spearmint, but it’s gone for tea.  I think I’d better divide my hanging baskets of mints and double my production.  The rosemary will be fine, because I have a big, healthy plant near the sliding glass door that I can steal leaves from if the jar is emptied, although we use a lot of rosemary in roasted chicken, roasted potatoes and squash, and in teas. There’s a big bay tree next to it, so I have leaves all winter.  The jar on the right is sage, a perennial, and used here mostly for Thanksgiving stuffing and teas.  I made a half-gallon of dried tea containing sage, honey powder, and vanilla bean which explains why I have so many sage plants.  I also make a lot of sage, rosemary, mint and thyme tea.  And that explains why there is no jar of dried thyme to show you…it’s all gone, as well as the lemon thyme.  Obviously, I need more thyme plants.  Thyme is also great for colds, and helps with mild depression, which is probably going to get worse since today, on Groundhog Day, we had the first sunny day in ages!

There are jars of calendula petals (which are for teas and salves yet to be made); elderflowers (I LOVE, love, love elderflower tea, which tastes wonderful and is used like aspirin); elderberries (to be made into immune-boosting syrup one of these winter days) and a nearly empty small jar of tarragon…I used most of my young tarragon plant making cornichons this summer, so I really need to add two more to the potager.  (NOTE:  Tarragon does not grow from seed, so purchase plants of true French Tarragon.  Seed-grown tarragon is Russian, which gets 5-6′ tall, is a rampant weed that self-seeds all over the neighborhood and sends roots rambling underground, with no flavor to redeem itself!)  There’s still 3 jars of hyssop (used mainly for tea) and 1 of rose geranium leaves (also for tea.)  Have you guessed that I am a tea-aholic?  Half a jar of lavender remains (for tea and scones, and many other luscious things.)  I do keep my dried herbs in clear jars (with tight-fitting lids) because they are stored in a dark cupboard.  If you keep herbs on an open shelf, use tins or dark-colored jars.  Keep them away from heat, which destroys the essential oils and therefore the flavor.

I prefer to freeze snipped chives, stems of dill, and lemon balm because they all turn beige when dried.  I just rinse, pat dry, and store them in freezer bags, breaking off pieces when I need them.  Already out of all three, so I need to do more next year, which means adding plant space.  Still have plenty of garlic and shallots, so I’ll repeat those quantities again.  We’ll tackle the vegetable supply another day!

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About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
This entry was posted in gardening, harvest, herbs, preserving, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Taking Stock of the Herb Pantry

  1. Wow! You grow lots of herbs, how inspiring! I have a little herb bed in my garden but would love to have the supplies like you do. What method do you use to dry your herbs?

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    • carolee says:

      It doesn’t seem like many herbs to me, since I owned an herb farm for many years. At one point 21 acres of herbs and dried flowers! However, I’m loving this retirement and the scale of my gardening now, without the pressure of trying to figure out what will sell and making a profit. I really enjoy growing, harvesting, and then bringing it to my kitchen to create tasty meals. Didn’t have enough time for fun cooking when I owned the farm. Drying depends upon the herb. Most are just hung in the shed on a rack in bunches. Some are spread on flat screens to dry. Parsley is always dried in the microwave (between layers of paper towel, short bursts of 10-15 sec, on low enough power so you don’t smell the oils evaporating) so it holds its brilliant color.

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  2. I love how you grow so many of the herbs you use. I plan to do more of that this year. Your article inspired me to look into elderberries more. I was also considering planting Russian Tarragon seeds this year for more variety, but now I am thinking I may not. I realized they were invasive, but not that invasive.

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    • carolee says:

      When I first began growing herbs, unknowingly I seeded and grew Russian Tarragon in my first herb garden. I kept thinking “I don’t know why people rave about the flavor of tarragon. It tastes like grass.” The next spring, the entire garden, paths included were matted with tiny seedlings and the original tarragon plant grew over my head and as large as the kitchen table in width! Plants popped up in the flower borders, the vegetable garden in front of the barn, and across the fence in the pasture! I began reading books (no internet then for easy research!!!) and discovered my mistake. I judge herb plant sellers quickly. If they are selling tarragon seed, or admit they’ve grown it from seed, or their plants have no true tarragon flavor (even though they may be labeled French tarragon) I pass them by. Growing from seed is easier and cheaper, and usually big box stores don’t know the difference. Always taste a leaf and if it does not “burn” the tip of your tongue after chewing a bit, avoid it.

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  3. Robin E. says:

    Looking at my jars of dried herbs is one of the most enjoyable things I do every fall. It’s nice when I manage to preserve just the right amount of basil and thyme.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. simoneharch says:

    Carolee, I’m not sure why, but I’ve never thought to dry my herbs. I use some of the Mediterranean herbs throughout winter, the rest I buy from the supermarket. Shame on me. Loved this post, you have inspired me to grow more of the tenders and to dry them for winter use. I may well come back to you later in the year for some drying advice! Thank you! Simone.x

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