FCS and Horticulture Get Hands Dirty!
Terra Freeman, UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns Horticulture Agent and myself will be hosting a summer camp on growing and using herbs. Included in the camp will be foods made with herbs plus hands on activities with plants.
The use of herbs in cooking dates back thousands of years. Here is a brief overview of how to purchase and handle your fresh herbs.
Obviously, herbs should not be wilted or discolored but smell appetizing and look crisp. How do you tell how fresh the herb is? See if the stems alone can support the leaves. If they can, you know your herbs are fresh. Make sure the herbs look uniformly colored and look like a live plant.
Once you have chosen your herbs, it is important to wash them to get off any dirt or grime before cooking and storing. Wash under cool running water and make sure any signs of dirt are gone. Pat dry with clean paper towel, or use a salad spinner or just give it a shake to get off the extra moisture.
Try to purchase herbs around the time you will use them. The longer they are stored, the more likely they will lose their flavor and prime appeal. In case you have extra or won’t use the herbs immediately, here is what to do to extend their freshness for around a week to 10 days:
- Snip about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) off the ends of the stems.
- Stand the stems in a water-filled glass. Only the stem ends should be submerged, not the leafy part.
- Keep the glass refrigerated and change the water each day.
If you don’t have room to store your herbs in a glass of water, wrap the trimmed herbs in a moist paper towel and keep them inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Freezing may alter the appearance quality but not the flavor. The ice around the herb seals out air and helps preserve its flavor and aroma. To freeze according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation:
- Wash, drain, and pat dry with paper towels.
- Wrap a few sprigs or leaves in freezer wrap and place in a labeled freezer bag.
- Seal and freeze.
Another way is to wash the herb, then coarsely chop them and place them in water filled ice cube trays. The frozen cubes can then be transferred to date labeled plastic bags and placed in the freezer. You can use individual cubes as needed.
In addition to cooking, herbs can be used for a myriad of creative art projects such as painting (herbs as paint brushes), making arrangements on sun developed photo paper, and as inspiration for water color paintings. We look forward to teaching the joys of eating and preparing local foods as well as exploring our artistic side at the summer camp.
Co authored by Terra Freeman UF/IFAS Extension St. Johns County Urban and Commercial Horticulture Agent and Master Gardener Volunteer Program Coordinator.