Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well
Janet Hackert, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Harrison County, University of Missouri Extension
The new dietary guidelines recommend that Americans use less sodium — 1,500 mg a day for children and the majority of adults. Using herbs instead of salt can help us achieve the lower sodium recommendations.
Many herbs can be grown in a small quantity in a pot, or for more production, in a garden. Some herbs can even be grown indoors, given plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil.
Harvesting herbs like basil, cilantro, mint, oregano, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme for their leaves is typically best done when the flower stems are just beginning to open. This is when the essential oils that give them their fragrance and flavor are at their peak. It is also best to harvest herbs in the morning, just after the dew has evaporated, on a day following at least two sunny days.
Many herbs can be dried. Place cut herbs loosely in a basket to avoid crushing leaves and damaging them. Cut perennials to about half their height and annuals to just a few inches. For herbs with larger leaves, remove the leaves from the stems after washing in cool water and patting dry. Spread the leaves out in a single layer and let dry in a dark, dry place with good air circulation. Ideal drying temperature is between 70 and 90 degrees F and drying takes three to four days.
For smaller leaves, keep the stem on and hang several stems inside a brown paper bag with small holes poked in the sides for ventilation. Tie the bag closed and hang upside down, catching in the bag any of the small leaves that fall off as they dry.
Herbs can also be frozen. Harvest and wash, then blanch in boiling, unsalted water for 50 seconds. Cool quickly in ice water and pat dry with paper towels. Freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, place in airtight containers or bags. Mark with contents and date.
For more information on growing, preserving and using herbs, download a free pdf of the MU Extension publications Growing Herbs at Home (G6470) or Herbs and spices (N362), or request a copy from your local MU Extension office.
Last update: Monday, November 05, 2012