At the height of summer it can seem like there are more herbs coming from your garden than you could ever use in a hundred years. But you don’t want to waste a single bit of herb goodness coming out of your garden this year. So what can you do to make sure you get the most out of your herbs? Why preserve them.
There are several ways you can preserve your herbs for later use:
- Drying–this is the easiest and works for just about any herb, culinary or medicinal.
- Freezing–I’m going to include here making pesto and freezing that into cubes
- Tinctures–this preserves and concentrates the therapeutic goodness of herbs in an alcohol base.
- Infused oils–not to be confused with distilling the essential oils, herb-infused oils are easy to make and have a wide variety of uses.
What you need
You really only need two ingredients to infuse oil with herbs: the herbs and the oil of your choice. The herbs can be fresh or dried. During the summer, you’ll likely use fresh (that’s when you have lots of fresh herbs!) and you’re more likely to use the dried herbs during the winter.
I usually use olive oil. Olive oil is a natural choice because it can be used both in cooking and for medicinal purposes. It’s widely available and affordable. But you can use other cold pressed oils: grapeseed, sesame, walnut, almond or avocado, to name just a few. You may find that the flavor of walnut and sesame oil competes with the subtle taste of the herbs. But all of these oils have lots of great skin-healing and skin-nourishing qualities, and so are good for salves or other topical use.
You’ll also need a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and something to keep the oil warm. You could use a slow cooker set on warm or a candle warmer, but make sure it never gets above 100°-110°. Any warmer and you start to degrade the oils that are in the herbs. My favorite way to keep the oil warm is just to set it in a warm sunny window and let the sun keep the oil naturally warm.
Fill your jar with herbs. If you are using dried herbs, you should fill it about 1/2 – 2/3 full. If you are using fresh herbs, fill the jar to the top.
Heat your oil to 100°. Pour warm oil over the herbs and let it sink into all the cracks and crevices between the herbs. Stir it a bit to make sure everything is well coated with oil and add more oil so that the herbs are completely immersed in oil.
Now just wait for the oil in the herbs to disperse into your oil. This can be as little as 2-3 days or as long as a week. It depends on how consistently warm the
jar is kept. If you have it in the window, it will cool off at night when the sun goes down and so it’ll take longer for the oil to become fully infused.
Label and Store
Once your oil is nicely infused, strain the herbs out of the oil. Pour the strained oil into a bottle with a tight-fitting lid. Label it.
If you plan to use this oil in cooking, it will store in the fridge for several weeks. If you are going to use it for cosmetic or topical uses, it will store for as long as six
months. The shelf life depends on the temperature it is stored at. Warmer temperatures will cause the oil to go rancid more quickly.
Now that you’ve preserved the herb goodness of your garden, make good use of this oil. Use it in marinades and salad dressings. For medicinal uses, make salves, lip balm or lotion. (See my book The How’s and Why’s of Homemade Beauty Products for lots of recipes for home-made cosmetics.)
These oils and any cosmetics you make with them make lovely gifts, so be sure to share your garden goodness with others!