Countertop herbs cut from the garden
Ahhh, the throes of summer. Every year, about mid-July, my herbs from spring start to just take OFF. Though I'm completely grateful, I always find myself scrambling to keep up with their abundance. It's best to clip them and encourage new growth until they come to the end of their life cycle. That means I've frozen basil in ice cubes for later use, microwaved oregano to make my own dried version sans dehydrator, and added fresh herbs to dishes that probably needed a slightly less heavy hand. 😉 My ultimate favorite, though, is keeping them on the counter to make me feel like I'm one with the outdoors and encourage me to get creative with meals. Some of you may actually grow countertop herbs indoors, but we have a kitchen/window space issue in our apartment that only allows me to grow outdoors and cut for use during the warm season. (Sigh!).
Should herbs be refrigerated?
Well, it depends on a few factors, including their hardiness and their ultimate destination. Do you need to use them within a few days, or do you plan to preserve for the winter for a little taste of summer flavor when it's cooler outside? I tend to keep my refrigerator pretty cool, so have actually had herbs in the fridge start to freeze - not good. Here is a breakdown on what can count as an official "countertop herb" kept out of the fridge, and what would be best in cooler, or more moderate temps.
Care and keeping of herbs
Cilantro is considered “hardy” and is typically best kept in the refrigerator. Always wash them first and either roll in a damp paper towel and store in a plastic bag in the fridge. I prefer washing, removing lower-level leaves, and keeping them in a jar. Technically, it’s best to slightly inflate a plastic bag and cover the jar, but I usually skip this step. I live in Zone 7B and can successfully keep the cilantro in a jar with a little water on the counter. Try both the fridge and countertop to see which works best for you!
Basil is sensitive to cold, so it is best to keep these on the counter. Cut the basil before a “notch” on the parent plant, so more leaves can sprout and grow, then remove any lower leaves, wash the basil, and keep in a jar with a few inches of water on the counter. Basil should officially be considered one of your countertop herbs!
Oregano, my favorite to dry in the microwave and use to sprinkle over homemade pizza toppings the rest of the year. This herb thrives in dry climates, so if you happen to live in a dry climate, you can spread on a plate (on the countertop) and let the leaves dry for a few days. Or, for those of us in more humid climates, dry the oregano on low power in the microwave for a few minutes. If you prefer, you can accomplish the same drying technique for several minutes in a “low oven” or a dehydrator.
Rosemary is also an herb that thrives in a dry climate, so follow the same steps as oregano: wash, leave on a plate on the counter to dry for a few days; otherwise, use microwave, oven, or dehydrator to dry.
Follow the same process as cilantro to keep fresh: wash, remove very low level leaves, keep in a jar with water and place a partially-inflated bag over the top.
Parsely loves the drier climates, like its oregano and rosemary counterparts. Follow the same steps as oregano to dry on counter for a few days, or expedite the process by drying in an oven or dehydrator.
Sage is another that needs to be dried after cutting. Wash and place on counter to dry for a few days, or put in the oven or microwave for a few minutes.
Another dry-weather fan, follow the same steps as oregano and rosemary – dry on counter for a few days, or in the microwave or oven (low heat) for a few minutes.
Though you can follow the same procedure for drying as oregano or rosemary, or use string to hang in a cool, dry location in your home. This takes several months, but is considered a more “old-school” process and can be known to ward off insects…like bugs that start with an “r” and will not be spelled out on this platform. Ew.
Be careful when preserving herbs in oil because of botulism bacteria and its tendency to multiply when air is not present. Wash the herbs thoroughly before preserving, keep cold, and use within a few weeks.
More: Keys to Good Cooking, Harold McGee (p. 147-8)
Once you use get that fresh cilantro inside, use it to make some fresh pico de gallo! What herbs do you keep out on the counter, or on your windowsill? Until next time, cheers to your #hearthhealthhappiness!