Garden Fresh Herbs
We grow a lot of herbs in our home garden. So much that often times I end up composting the extra herbs I can not use or give away. When I do give a mountain of my herbal bounty to friends and neighbors, I always get the same question: How do you use fresh herbs? I get super excited and start listing all the fresh herb dishes I know. I’m sure I sound like Bubba boasting of the many ways to cook shrimp: shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo….
Why Not Use Dried Herbs
There’s nothing wrong with using dried herbs. Dried herbs are great when you do not have any fresh ones to use. I do dry my excess herbs at the end of the gardening season so I will have my own spice stockpile in the winter. Dried herbs tend to be stronger than fresh ones because they are more concentrated. Fresh herbs contain water, which is evaporated out when you they are dried; they are about half as strong as dried. However, fresh herbs give your dish a definite bright and crisp taste that dried herbs can not.
Cooking with Fresh Herbs
I use fresh herbs in both savory and sweet dishes. By far one of the easiest ways to use herbs is as a component of your salad. Herbs like basil, parsley and cilantro are excellent tossed with other salad greens. While you are having a salad, use the same herbs in a simple vinaigrette.
Once of my favorite dishes to create with an abundance of herbs is pesto. Traditional pesto is made with only basil. My pesto uses whatever herb I happen to gather that day and is mixed with plenty of garlic, olive oil and Parmesan cheese.
I’ve baked with fresh herbs. I love to toss a handful of chopped herbs in a quick bread. The heartier herbs like sage, parsley, thyme and rosemary go well together. These herbs give the bread a hearty flavor that pairs well with soups.
Rosemary is a particular favorite herb of mine that has many uses other than flavoring lamb. I like to use it in citrus cakes; it lends a lovely piney note that pairs well with sweet citrus-y flavors.
Herbal teas have been used for centuries to treat minor ailments. I use the mint growing all over my garden (yep, I did plant it in the ground, so it grows everywhere) to make a hot cup of mint tea. When someone gets an upset stomach around here, I head to the garden and grab a few springs of my mint gone wild and steep it in hot water.
Many “herbal” tea recipes will require you to dry the herbs before you steep (to concentrate the flavor), however, you do not have to: it will take more of the fresh stuff to get a strong taste. Other herbs that make yummy teas include chamomile, bee balm, Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena.
Many commercial beauty products contain extracts made from herbs. If you are feeling practically crafty, make your own to use in your homemade beauty products. You can add the fresh herbs to melted coconut oil or an alcohol base and let it steep for a few weeks. Once you have your extract or tincture, you are ready to make balms, lotions (or lotion bars) and facial washes.
If that seems like too much work, try using fresh herbs in a “steam”. Gather fresh herbs like rosemary, calendula, thyme, mint and lavender. Place them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them. Hang your head over the bowl, about 6-8 inches away. Drape a towel over your head, forming a steam tent. Steam your face and neck for about 5 minutes, inhaling the herbal scent.
Flowers are pretty, but if you do not have any to add to your centerpiece, grab some fresh herbs! Who says you can’t use herbs in an arrangement? Cut herbs last for days in water and look great in an arrangement. Mix in some seasonal veggies and you’ll have s centerpiece like none other. The best part is that you can also eat your centerpiece later 🙂