Herbs increasingly used in home canning

The Associated PressJuly 6, 2013 

Gardening-Preserving Herbs

Spice up the regular ingredients for tomato sauce with fresh herbs from your garden.

DEAN FOSDICK — The Associated Press

  • WHAT SHOULD YOU PLANT?

    Beginning herb gardeners may have a problem deciding which herbs to plant because of the large number of herbs from which to select. A quick check of your supermarket shelf will give you some idea of the types of herbs used in cooking and also will serve as a planting guide. Many cookbooks also offer information on uses of various herbs as flavorings.

    Strong herbs: winter savory, rosemary, sage

    Herbs strong enough for accent: sweet basil, dill, mint, sweet marjoram, tarragon, thyme

    Herbs for blending: chives, parsley, summer savory

    As your interest and needs increase, you can add to the variety of herbs in your garden. Keep in mind that herbs can be annuals, biennials, or perennials when selecting herbs to grow for the first time.

    Annuals (bloom one season and die): anise, basil, chervil, coriander, dill, summer savory

    Biennials (live two seasons, blooming second season only): caraway, parsley

    Perennials (overwinter; bloom each season once established): chives, fennel, lovage, marjoram, mint, tarragon, thyme, winter savory.

    Source: Cooperative Extension Services of the Northeast States

Culinary herbs are among the hottest trends in gardening. They also are popular among families who preserve fresh foods for later use.

Nearly 70 percent of home canners are growing herbs, second only to tomatoes, said Lauren Devine-Hager, a product research and test-kitchen scientist with Jarden Home Brands, which manufactures the classic Ball home-canning Mason jars.

"At least a third of them dry and store their herbs," she said.

Jarden is paying more attention to that fast-emerging market by developing new recipes, new methods of preservation, and new products for short- and long-term storage, Devine-Hager said.

"When we ask people what herbs they're growing, they tell us No. 1 is basil, followed by chives, cilantro and dill," she said. "These are all great for adding flavor to meals without using much if any salt."

People also are using herbs in ways they haven't traditionally been used, said Daniel Gasteiger, author of "Yes You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too" (Cool Springs Press, 2011).

"We're seeing a lot of infusions and mixology," said Gasteiger, from Lewisburg, Pa. "People are getting into herb-mixed drinks. I use vodka infused with herbs and garlic to flavor things like Dijon mustard and creamed noodles. You put a flambe on it to burn off the alcohol and it leaves the essence of the herbs behind."

Herbal innovation also is becoming more noticeable at farmer's markets, he said. "I've seen lots of herb jellies being sold. Fennel, thyme, rosemary and lavender."

Moreover, there has been a surge in the sale of food dehydrators - electrical devices that remove moisture from foods to aid in preservation.

"Many people just want to know what's in their food," said Meagan Bradley, a vice president of marketing for The Legacy Companies, which markets the Excalibur line of dehydrators. "They're using their own herbs and dehydrating - making seasonings by grinding it up."

Food preservation is a great way to stock up on essentials, Bradley said from her Miami office. "Maybe they work long hours or they want something to tide them over during hurricanes," she said.

Other things to remember when preserving herbs:

• Herbs are among the easiest plants to grow, and can be planted inside, on window sills, or outside in gardens or containers.

• Herbs can be grown from seed, making them inexpensive.

• Shelf life varies depending upon the type of herb, the amount of moisture removed and storage conditions.

• The best time to harvest herbs for drying is just before the flowers first open, when they are in the "bursting bud stage," the University of Georgia's National Center for Home Food Preservation says. Gather herbs in the morning to minimize wilting.

• Many people dry or freeze fresh herbs, while others add them to vinegars, oils, butters, alcoholic drinks, sea salt, soaps and jellies. Preservation in those cases often involves short-term refrigeration or long-term freezing.

• Dry herbs are more concentrated and have a stronger flavor than fresh herbs. "A recipe calling for a tablespoon of fresh basil would call for a half-tablespoon of dried basil," said Angelica Asbury, a culinary analyst with The Legacy Companies.

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