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Dried herbs add flavor to meals year round

As I try my best to patiently wait for my garden’s tomatoes to blush and pepper varieties to turn from green to red and yellow, my pots of herbs have been a great distraction.

I keep basil, cilantro, and parsley in pots on my porch steps, and planted rosemary, oregano, and sage in my garden bed.

Those are all I had room for in my yard, but there are many herbs that grow well in our Virginia climate. Fresh herbs are wonderful, and though I try to enjoy them as long as I can each season, I also make sure to set some aside to preserve. By drying or freezing herbs, you can add their flavors to meals all year round.

You can dry herbs in food dehydrators quickly, but herbs can also be dried by hanging in bundles. Air drying herbs this way entails simply wrapping a rubber band around the stems and hanging them stems-end up in a dry place inside. Herbs that have a higher moisture content such as basil, oregano, mint, and tarragon should air dry inside a paper bag with holes cut in its sides. The paper bag will help speed up the drying process for these higher-moisture herbs. The faster the drying time, the less likely mold will develop.

You’ll know the herbs are fully dried once they crumble easily in your hand. I’ve always crushed dried herbs to fit as many in a single container as possible, but I read recently that storing dried leaves whole and crumbling them just before adding them to a dish can keep them even more flavorful. Something to try and compare the flavors of both methods this season. Glass jars or airtight plastic containers are the best storage options for dried herbs in a cool, dark cabinet or pantry.

Drying herbs not only makes them last longer, but also stretches your harvest yield. Dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs so you can use a smaller amount when cooking with herbs you dried. Freezing herbs is a great method to preserve herbs’ fresh flavor. Individual leaves can freeze in plastic bags in flat layers to take up minimal freezer space.

You can also freeze herbs after mixing them in a blender or food processor with water or olive oil, forming a puree. Depending on how many herbs you typically use in recipes, you can freeze the puree in containers or use an ice tray to freeze smaller cubes of the herb puree to store in a bag together. This same technique is great for pestos with basil or cilantro and chimichurri with parsley. Just as easy as opening a jar of water bath-canned marinara sauce, adding three “ice cubes” of pesto to cooked pasta in the winter is delicious delight.

You can find more gardening and food preservation resources on Virginia Food Works’ website: www. virginiafoodworks.org/ Home-Canning-Resources.

KATHARINE WILSON is the director Virginia Food Works. She can be reached at info@virginiafoodworks.org.