If you’re like me, you have more herbs than you know what to do with in your garden. Beyond drying and freezing, I have to find creative ways to make sure I’m not letting all that herby goodness go to waste. There are so many things you can do with herbs and the following is a list of some of the things I’ve been doing with my herbs this summer.
Stir up Pesto
One of the tried-and-true standbys for using up an abundance of basil is to make delicious pesto. A spicy sauce made with basil, garlic, Parmesan-Reggiano, pine nuts and olive oil (I also add a Fresno pepper for bite), you can use pesto on everything from pasta to sandwiches or even as a marinade – and, bonus, it freezes really well, too. (Freezing it in ice trays and then storing the cubes in a storage bag is the way to go.) Here is a simple, basic pesto recipe that should take you no more than 15 minutes. The sauce is traditionally made using a mortar and pestle, which is how I like to do it, but feel free to use a food processor.
Basic Basil Pesto
- Mortar and Pestle or Food Processor
- 2 cups Basil
- 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
- 1/4 cup Pine Nuts
- 1/2 cup Olive Oil
- Salt, to taste
- Put basil into food processor or mortar andpestle to process.
- After processed, add garlic, pine nuts, andcheese.
- Slowly drizzle in olive oil as sauce isprocessing. Add salt to taste.
Arrange a Bouquet
One of my favorite ways to use herbs is to make herbal bouquets. Many herbs produce lovely flowers so it’s a great way to bring both the beauty and luscious scents from the garden inside. This is one that I made last week with my daughter, Molly. We used dill, Thai basil, Mexican mint, lavender and calendula.
Concoct an Herbal Oil Infusion
To take advantage of the beneficial properties of specific herbs, consider making an herbal oil infusion. Some oil infusions (comfrey, for example) may be good for scrapes and burns others for beauty serums and creams (lavender, for example). Make your own herbal oil infusion at home with the following recipe.
Recipe: How to Make a Long Herbal Oil Infusion
- Fill a one-pint jar with a tight-fitting lid about halfway to two-thirds with dried herb of choice. Cover leaves with preferred carrier oil, such as olive, avocado, coconut, or grapeseed.
- To make a long oil infusion, leave for six weeks and shake the jar a couple of times a day. After six weeks, strain the oil through cheesecloth.
- Add a 1/2 teaspoon of vitamin E to help preserve the oil. You can also add a few drops of essential oils like rosemary, lavender, or chamomile to make your oil even more beneficial.
I like to think of Chimichurri as a kind pesto … just made with parsley. An Argentinian sauce used as a marinade or as a table condiment, it is usually eaten with steak. But for those eschewing meat, you can also eat it with veggies or cheese. Here is a basic recipe.
- 1 Cup Parsley
- Few Sprigs of Oregano
- 1 Small Shallot
- 2 Cloves Garlic
- 1 Small Fresno Pepper or Red Jalapeno
- 1/3 Cup Red Wine Vinegar
- 3/4 Cup Olive Oil
- Put parsley and oregano into food processor or mortar and pestle to process.
- After processed, add garlic, shallot and pepper and process. Add vinegar.
- Slowly drizzle in olive oil as sauce is processing. Add salt to taste.
Whip up Compound Butter
Compound butter is a great way to get the flavor of all the different kinds of herb you grew in the summer year-round. Easily frozen, there are a ton of different combinations. Here is a good simple recipe:
- Get good butter. I like using European butters because they have more butterfat, hence making your compound butter extra creamy and delicious.
- Soften butter to room temperature until it is easily stir-able—this will probably take a few hours.
- Gather the herb of your choice. You can use either dried or fresh herbs, but if you’re using fresh, make sure the herbs have had several hours to air dry after rinsing before mixing them into the butter. You don’t want to mix water into the butter.
- Chop finely and mix into butter. You can also add garlic, lemon peel, or even ginger. Experiment with flavors you like!
- To store in the freezer, scoop the herb butter onto a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Shape it into a log by rolling it in the paper and wrap tightly on each end. I also put them in freezer bags to help prevent freezer burn.
Brew Herbal Infused Water
I love adding herbs to water to get all the beneficial nutrients. You can add just a bit to a cool drink and sip immediately for a delicious summer refresher, or steep herbs like tea for longer periods to wring out even more nutrients. To get even more of the medicinal benefits, some folks make what’s called a long herbal infusion. Check out the following recipe courtesy clinical herbalist Kathleen Raven Wildwood, founder of the Verona, Wisc.-based Wildwood Institute.
- Take one ounce of chosen dried herb.
- Place in a canning jar. Use a one-quart jar for leaves (such as basil), or hardy flowers (such as red clover), one-pint jar for roots, barks, or berries (such as rose hips).
- Cover completely with boiling water, stir with chopstick or knife and add more water until full.
- Place lid on and let sit four-to-eight hours for leaves or hardy flowers, eight hours for roots.
- When done brewing, strain and refrigerate. Infusion will keep for 48 hours in the refrigerator. Infusions may be reheated. (Do not boil, preferably. It is still OK to drink if it is boiled, but nutrients may be lost.) Infusions may be iced, sweetened, and milk may be added. Some do well with salt or tamari, such as nettle.
Nothing could be better to use (or easier to make) for summer cocktails than infused vodka. For basil vodka, which is the perfect base for summery, refreshing drinks, grab a large bunch of fresh basil, stick the leaves in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid, fill with plain vodka, seal the lid and sit the jar in a cool, dark place for up to three days. Taste it every day to get it to the flavor you prefer. After three days, strain out the basil leaves and pour yourself a cocktail! You can do with this with any herb you’d like.
Stir up Simple Syrup
Speaking of Happy Hour, you can get some of that same herbally goodness in your cocktails with herbal simple syrup. Here is a great base recipe.
Herbal Simple Syrup
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 1 Cup Water
- 1/4 to 1 Cup Fresh Herbs
- Combine water, sugar, and herbs in a small sauce pan and bring to a boil. Stir continually until sugar dissolves and then simmer for1 minute.
- Remove from heat and let syrup steep with herbs, about half an hour. Note the amounts of herbs will depend on the strength of the herbs themselves. You may, for example, need 1/4 cup of lavender but 1 cup of basil to get the strength of flavor you desire.
- Cool and pour syrup into container through a mesh strainer to remove herbs. Store in the fridge for up to one month.
Shake Up Some Herbal Salt
Herbal salt is the easiest thing ever to make. For real. Just stick a spring of rosemary (or whatever) into your salt cellar and call it a day. You’ll have fragrant salt to add as a finisher to your dishes at the table.
Invent an Herbal Hair Rinse
There is nothing my locs like more than a good herbal rinse. I usually collect a few from my garden and let it sit in a jar with hot water for a few hours. Sometimes I add a hibiscus teabag and I always add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar.
Try this recipe. Grab handful of:
- Lavender (moisturizes dry scalp, fights hair loss, increase circulation to scalp)
- Chamomile (fights dandruff and dry scalp, restores shines, reduces hair loss)
- Rosemary (prevents premature graying, stops hair loss, boosts shine, decreases dandruff)
- Calendula (thickens hair, reduces dandruff, improves scalp condition, conditions)
- Basil (increases scalp circulation, stimulates hair follicles for new hair growth)
Put herbs in large mason jar. Pour hot water over herbs and then add 3-4 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar. Let sit for a few hours.