Tips and Recipes for Midsummer Herb Harvests

By Joyce Driemeyer

(This article first appeared in The Gateway Gardener July 2009 issue)

What to do with some of those herbs you are now growing!  Although they have ease of maintenance, weekly snipping and pruning will keep them thrifty and bushy. Water at the root area during very dry periods, a task best done in the early morning.  After two days of sunshine harvest foliage in early morning also and prior to bloom when the volatile oils are strongest. Herbs like parsley, tarragon (which does not bloom) and sage can be collected at any time of the growing season. Sage, in fact, is good even into fall, unlike basil which loses its flavor in September.

Herbs like thyme, marjoram, oregano and tarragon can all be cut and tied into small bundles and hung upside down to dry in a dry space like an attic or garage. That’s the old fashioned way!  For a quicker method, strip leaves and try drying in 150-degree oven  on a screen or perforated tray. After 15 minutes check, and if dry as corn flakes and not discolored, they can be stored in small glass jars with screw-top lids away from heat and light. Be sure to label and date contents. They should be good for at least a year. You might also try microwaving the leaves on paper towels at high power, but check every 10 seconds. Ovens differ in power. You will have to experiment. Timing depends on texture and density of the leaves.

Herbs can also be frozen in small freezer proof bags. They will not be beautiful but will add flavor to any dishes.

I have often mentioned pesto, a good way to use basil. For a recipe, use 2 cups chopped fresh basil, 1/2 cup pine nuts, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese; Combine all in a processor until a paste is formed, then while still running, slowly add 1/2 cup good quality olive oil. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve over pasta or spread on toasted baguettes or other crisp bread .

Herb butters are also a good way to use herbs. Try any combination you choose but use only unsalted butter. A simple beginning: start with 1/2 cup butter softened, 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, 2 Tbs. minced chives, 1 Tbs. fresh chopped parsley, 1 tsp. sweet marjoram.

Green mayonnaise for use on cold salmon or other cooked fish is easy, too. To 1 cup of mayonnaise, add 1Tbs. tarragon vinegar, 2 tsp. lemon juice and 2 Tbs. finely chopped chives, parsley and dill. Experiment with many combinations of herbs in all of these suggestions to please your taste buds.

Joyce Driemeyer has been a MBG volunteer since 1969 and a Master Gardener since 1985. She is also a past board member of the Herb Society of America, and is a current board member of the St. Louis Herb Society.