The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Don’t forget the herbs

our parsley in Danny's bathMost smallholders and self sufficiency enthusiasts are harvesting madly now. Our kitchen is full of apples, damsons, greengages and plums. The large sweet blackberries that cover the end of the chicken run must be picked. I love the fructulence of this season, the boughs of the apple trees weighed down to the ground with fruit. But sometimes the sheer volume of produce can be overwhelming.It’s so easy to overlook the herbs. We leave the hardy evergreen herbs alone, such as rosemary and bay leaves. Rather than face a winter of having to buy herbs, we harvest te others now. Top of the list are mint, tarragon, marjoram, chives and thyme (this looks tough but often doesn’t survive the winter in our garden). We don’t dry parsley but it freezes well.

Each autumn we harvest the seed from the wild fennel and lovage. We cut the heads off and put them in small containers, covered with muslin, in a dry spot. When the seed can be brushed away easily they are ready to be stored in small labelled airtight jars (we use recycled herb jars).

If you know that there are going to be a few dry, sunny days, cut your herbs in the morning and lay them on newspaper in a sunny spot. The herbs will dry quickly in the sun without losing too much flavour. Store them in airtight, labelled containers.

We hang leafy herbs like oregano and mint in bunches, upside down from the kitchen beams until they are dry enough to store. This looks pretty and the scent fills the kitchen if they are crushed a little. This is a good natural way of killing off cooking smells. It’s even worth bringing a pot of mint into the kitchen in the winter, and drying off a small bunch every month or so as a natural air freshener.

We also fill small plastic bags with herbs and freeze them. If you can find a plastic container with a lid, such as an ice cream box, you can keep the herbs all in one place. They will be easier to find and not get crushed. Defrosted herbs sometimes look a bit mushy but they taste superb in soup and stews.

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