Using your Garden’s Fall Herbal Bounty: Drying Herbs & Flavoring Salts, Vinegars, & Oils
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Aloha Gardeners of Hawai’i,
By the beginning of Fall, I usually have some pretty large herb plants of various varieties in my home garden and maybe you do too! This is also the time of year I start thinking about preserving some of these herbs, tomatoes, or peppers for using later and also giving these culinary creations away as gifts during the holiday season. Even through this holiday season may not look exactly like the past…it will be filled with love and joy for our family and friends. So, if your garden has any herbs left from the summer you might think about creating some “value added products!” If you still have peppers or tomatoes you can also use these dried or in oils to spice up your culinary life! Summer in the Hawaiian Islands is hot and dry (except Kona) -perfect for ALL the Mediterranean herbs.
There are a lot of recipes in this Blog, so you can scroll down to ones that interest you and keep this for reference. Let’s start with tips on drying and preserving herbs.
Salt – Drying Herbs – Making Herbal Salts
Drying Herbs: There are 3 approaches to drying herbs for future use, and where you live and the season/humidity/temperature will all affect the outcome. So you may have to do some experimenting.
1. You can cut and bundle herbs and hang them from a string in a dry & breezy area (like your lanai). This is a time honored approach as long as they can retain their potency and remain mold-free.
2. If you live in a rainy area where humidity is high, you could dry them in a low temperature oven (95-125 degrees). Some ovens won’t go that low so you would have to open the door a bit and use a thermometer to monitor temperature.
3. You can also use a dehydrator. (95-115 degrees)
If you dry herbs in the oven or dehydrator, check the frequently for color and flavor, but keep the temperature 115 degrees or under. They are ready for storage when they are brittle. When dry, place them in a clean airtight container or jar and store on a dark shelf in your pantry. You can use as is or crush them finer before you bottle. Check them again a few days later to make sure they were dry enough. I have made that mistake before! Dried herbs should keep their flavor up to a year, and can be used in any of your culinary creations that call for flavoring.
You can also make some extra bundles - dry them and add to your Holiday Wreath!
Creating Homemade Herbal Salts
The Salt: Let’s start with a short discussion of the salt you will be using. Herbal salts can be made using fresh or dried herbs. I’ll include recipes for both.
For the salt, you can purchase your favorite one or lucky you live Hawai’i, you can try extracting salt from sea water, or directly collect (you may need to get permission) in the salt pans that naturally occur along our shorelines. Here are some guidelines for various ways to extract the salt from the water. Always collect the water in a place you feel is clean. For every 5 gallons of water collected you can make approximately 4 cups of salt. Take a clean food grade 5 gallon bucket with a lid for transport. Below are 2 different methods for extracting the salt from sea water.
Homemade Herbal Salt Recipe Using Fresh Herbs
Herbal salts can be made using fresh or dried herbs. Both have their good points, so experiment with both methods!
Herbal Salt Recipe:
3 cups of loosely packed fresh herbs: I love using dill or cilantro but you could also use parsley, basil, mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary, turmeric, moringa, dandelion leaf, lavender, fennel seeds, or rose petals, or combinations!
½ cup of course salt (see above)
1. Wash the herbs and dry thoroughly. The salad spinner works well for that. Remove course stems or discolored leaves.
2. Place the herbs and salt in a food processor and grind but be careful not to grind too much (making a paste or puree). OR… if you don’t want to use a food processor, coarsely chop the leaves with your knife, add some salt and continue chopping and adding salt until you have a coarse uniform mixture.
3. Place the herbal mixture in a glass jar and put into the refrigerator for 7-14 days to “meld” the flavors. It can be kept up to 6 months.
4. Use it to flavor the outside of chicken or meats, or use in soup, stew, or stir fries. Remember it’s salty so use sparingly.
One more: Here is the recipe for the “famous” Tuscan Herbal Salt, a classic of Northern Italian cooking. You can add it as a “rub” to meats, to cooking dried beans, to popcorn, potatoes, even a morning fried egg!
·4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled
·Scant 1/2 cup kosher salt
About 2 cups loosely-packed, pungent fresh herbs such as sage, rosemary, thyme, savory, or small amounts of lavender. (For Tuscan Herbal Salt use a mix of fresh rosemary and sage leaves 50/50 or whatever balance you prefer).
1. In the work bowl of a food processor, (or you can hand chop) combine the garlic and 2 tablespoons of the salt. Pulse until the garlic is chopped medium-coarse. Add the herbs and continue pulsing until the mixture is the texture of very coarse sand. Transfer to a sheet pan and toss with the remaining salt
2. Leave near an open window for a couple of days to dry. Store in clean, dry jars.
Tip: Get your jars together and wash them before you start.
Homemade Herbal Salt Recipe Using Dried Herbs
Making an herbal salt using dried herbs is relatively simple. You can use a single herb with salt or try making a “combination” salt using various dry herb blends together!
Use 1 part roughly ground dry herb (a single or herb blend)
1 part sea salt
Grind each dried herb separately with a mortar & pestle (experiment with various grinds fine or coarse)
Then add the herbs back to the mortar with the salt and grind until the right consistency.
Since everything is already dry, you can store in an airtight glass jar, grinder, or salt shaker.
Herbal Salt/Sugar Scrub/Soak for Shower or Bath: Salts or Sugar scented with an herbal oil (see below) can also be used as a skin scrub in the shower or a soak in the bath. Salts are cleansing and therapeutic, and can be used directly on the skin as a scrub, or try using Epsom Salts tossed with an herbal oil and soak in a warm bath. Example: you could pick and dry lavender flowers, then grind with salt (in a coffee grinder dedicated to herbal grinds), or you could infuse fresh lavender flowers into a coconut, almond, or other oil of your choice and then add to your salt or sugar mix. Keep in a tight glass jar (see below).
Creating Homemade Herbal Oils
Homemade herbal oils can be used for cooking & culinary, as skin or hair care treatments, or added to your bath. They can be made with dried or fresh herbs and can be made with a single herb or a combination of your inspiration! They could also be made by infusing fresh scented flowers into the oil. The most common carriers of the culinary oils are coconut or olive oil. For Body products the most commonly used oils are apricot kernel, avocado, castor, coconut, grape seed, jojoba, olive, or almond. Once you have made your herbal oils you can make bath bombs -but I think I will save this for a future blog.
Using Dried Herbs:
1. Mix 1 part dried herbs with 2 parts oil in a container.
2. Leave the mixture in a warm place for two or three weeks. The longer the herbs are left in the carrier oil, the stronger they will be.
3. Strain out the herbs and store your herbal oil in a cool, dark place.
Using Fresh Herbs: I use my herb infused oils for salad dressings, sauces, stir-fries, marinades, and sautéing. If you rinse your herbs, dry them thoroughly in a salad spinner or towels before adding them to your oil. I’m going to share two recipes and you can use them as a springboard for your own recipes. The fresh herbs listed below are merely examples of what could be used.
Bouquet Garni (a bunch of herbs) Oil:
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon sage
2 tablespoons flat-leafed parsley
2 tablespoons oregano
1-2 dried bay leaves
A pinch of chili flakes (optional)
2 cups olive oil
1. Mash and bruise the leaves with a mortar & pestle, adding a little oil as you work.
2. Add the herbs to the oil and store in a clean wide-mouth jar. Cover the jar and set it on a windowsill for about 2 weeks to infuse the oil with flavor.
3. After 2 weeks strain through cheesecloth or a fine wire mesh strainer into a clean jar, label and date. I store mine in a refrigerator but you could experiment on the shelf in your pantry.
Making Dill Oil: Many of you may have Dill in your gardens right now, so here is a recipe for making Dill Oil (same uses as listed above). It is a delicious “carrier” of the dill flavor that can be used in so many ways. For every 4 Tablespoons (60 ml) of Olive Oil, add 4 tsp. chopped fresh Dill into a food processor or blender and pulse until liquefied. You can leave out in the kitchen for up to 24 hours then strain through cheese cloth into a clean glass bottle and keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 months.
Herb Infused Vinegars: Flavoring vinegars with herbs is a lot like flavoring oils, and it’s fun to experiment with which vinegars pair best with which herbs. White wine, red wine, and rice wine vinegars all carry herbal flavors well; balsamic pairs well with tarragon, basil, or rosemary; and you can almost never go wrong with apple cider vinegar. The following recipe, couldn’t be simpler; start with:
10 tablespoons chopped herbs
2 cups cider or white wine vinegar
1. Chop up about 10 tablespoons of fresh herbs and pound them with a mortar and pestle. Basil, marjoram, oregano, dill, thyme, savory, tarragon, chervil, or cilantro are all good choices; proportion them according to your taste.
2. Heat half the vinegar on the stove (just below a simmering heat) and pour over the herbs. Allow to cool and then add this mixture to the remaining unheated vinegar and leave in a sealed jar on the windowsill for two weeks. Shake the jar every day.
3. After two weeks, strain the contents and store in the pantry. If you really want to get fancy, add a garlic clove and a few peppercorns.
Preserving Ka’ala Red Peppers in Olive Oil: Here is a recipe shared by Big Island grower, Michelle Carrillo…..use it to preserve the abundance of your Ka’ala Red Peppers.
Ka'ala Red Peppers
Rosemary or thyme (optional)
Good quality olive oil
1. Prepare peppers for roasting by washing, de-stemming and removing seeds. There are multiple ways to roast peppers, I prefer the cast-iron pan technique.
2. Using a very low flame, lay the pepper slices in your well seasoned cast-iron pan and allow them to curl and blacken on both sides. If you prefer to use the oven, lay pepper slices in a single layer on a baking sheet or roasting pan and roast them in a pre-heated oven at 425 degrees for 35-50 minutes (varies by oven - mine is very slow!) until they are soft and the edges have turned black and curled inward (you will need to turn them over). Alternatively, and probably the most fun, you could roast your peppers whole over a smoky fire for incredible flavor and then peel and de-seed once they have cooled.
3. Peeling the outer skins makes red peppers easier to digest, but you can leave the skins on for a delicious, heightened roasted flavor. If you choose to peel, make sure your roasted peppers have completely cooled before peeling their skins. Salt your peppers according to your taste once they are ready for the jar.
4. Add 1/4 inch of red vinegar to your wide-mouth jars and lay the peppers loosely inside.
5. Pop in a couple of stems of rosemary or thyme, and cover generously with a good quality olive oil. Slide a skewer around the inside of the jar to remove any air bubbles that may remain. Be sure the peppers are completely submerged in oil, with 1/4 inch of oil well above the peppers. Keep refrigerated and these delicious roasted peppers will keep for 2-3 months. These preserved roasted peppers are a simple and easy way to brighten scrambled eggs, sandwiches, ulu salad, etc. Enjoy!
Sun-dried Tomatoes in Oil
Do you have extra tomatoes in your garden right now? If so, there are 3 ways you can make and preserve sun-dried tomatoes using the Sun OR your oven/dehydrator. A dried tomato loses most of it’s moisture but retains sweetness and nutrients, perfect for any dishes where you want the tomato taste to shine through!
1. The Sun: Simply cut your tomato in half (even a cherry tomato) sprinkle with salt (sparingly) and lay out on a cookie sheet on a hot day covering with cheese cloth or some kind of light netting. I like to use that netting that the ballerinas use for their skirts, it’s inexpensive and works for a lot of different garden challenges. Bring inside overnight, or if rain appears. It can take from 2 days to 2 weeks depending on where you live. If you have a solar dryer use that!
2. The Oven: Place cut side up on a cookie sheet with parchment. Set oven to 225 degrees and check after 2 hours, as this could take 2-3 hours depending on size of the tomatoes. Tomatoes should be pliable but not squishy or moist. You can also sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs after they are cut and placed on the parchment.
3. The Dehydrator: Cut tomatoes in ½ and place cut side up on the racks, 140 degrees for 6-8 hours!
Once your tomatoes are fully dried and cooled, you can pack them in olive oil if you would like to preserve them. Simply pack loosely into a clean jar and add herbs (fresh or dried - Optional) and olive oil so that tomatoes are immersed. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. This will plump them up and make them perfect for adding to things like antipasto and cheese/charcuterie platters, salad dressings, pasta salads, and anything else you’d normally use dried tomatoes in. Since they’re packed in olive oil they won’t need to be reconstituted with water and you have the option of adding more flavor to them by placing things like herbs and/or garlic in the olive oil along with the tomatoes.
One more: Making Cilantro Pesto
I’ve had a lot of Calypso Cilantro this year, so I have been making Cilantro Pesto instead of using basil. It’s basically the same thing. I cut but don’t wash the cilantro unless it’s been laying on the soil, and then I spin dry with the salad spinner. I start with a little olive oil, ½ cup in the blender (or food processor) add chopped garlic and then begin to blend in the sprigs of cilantro until it is a thick paste. Sometimes I add chopped mac-nuts if I have, or if it gets too thick a little more olive oil. I pack into those small plastic reusable containers and freeze as much as possible as once. Cilantro is an amazing nutritious food and when you eat it as a pesto you get all it’s benefits!
A word about bottles. There are a few companies on the internet that sell (12) herb bottles with a shaker & cap for around $12. There are also many beautiful jars for sale in sets (usually of 12) that will make a beautiful and inexpensive gift for your products! Before putting your creations away in the refrigerator or leaving them out in your kitchen, make sure your bottle and cap have been washed thoroughly with soap and hot water, or you can boil the bottle and cap for a few minutes, and let cool before adding your mixtures.
Thanks so much for coming along with me on today’s culinary journey using herbs, tomatoes and peppers from your kitchen garden. As time goes on, the Hawai’i Seed Growers Network will continue to add more herb varieties to the Online Marketplace. Stay Tuned for Shout-outs of new varieties, I know there are many coming up soon! Mahalo to those of you who sent me photos of your gardens on your apartment lanai, I’m saving them for a future Blog.
Stay Well and see you next month,
More to come…..Watch this space!