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By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Jun 1 2017 10:00AM

Many herbs will lose some of their aromatic intensity as the weather really hots up, so June is the perfect time to preserve a few batches for use later in the year.

As we mentioned back in May, early summer is prime time for garden-grown herbs. The simplest and most economical method of preserving some is to air-dry them.

Home dried herbs are a world apart from supermarket varieties. The flavour and aroma from most herbs comes from oils that are a natural defence mechanism against insects and bacteria. Because most supermarket herbs are grown hydroponically they don’t have the same exposure to these elements, meaning their oils are less intense.

You will need:

• A selection of garden herbs (buy some from a market if you don't grow your own)

• Brown paper bags (the large sandwich bags used by delicatessens are ideal)

• String or twist ties

• Somewhere warm and dry to hang your herbs

• Jars and labels for storage

On a dry day, cut your herbs. Cut then mid-morning after any morning dew has dried off.

Rinse them under a little cold water to remove any dust and garden chemicals. Dry by lightly blotting on a sheet of kitchen paper.

Take small bunches of your herbs and tie the stems together. Remove any discoloured or damaged leaves.

Puncture a few holes in each bag, without damaging the leaves, to allow air to circulate. Using a hole punch will ensure the holes are neat and less likely to tear.

Now place each bunch into a paper bag and using the string or ties, tie the neck of the bag around the stems. Use a knot that you can undo easily as you'll want to check the herbs from time to time and the knot may need tightening as the stems dry and shrink.

Write the name of the herb on the bag and hang upside down in a warm, dry space, ideally out of direct


After a few weeks of warm weather your herbs should be dry and crispy. If they are still moist then leave for another week. Otherwise, pack them into airtight jars and label.

For maximum flavour, don't crush your herbs until just before you cook with them. Dried fully, your herbs will last until next summer.

Air-drying is most effective for slightly woody herbs with a low moisture content such as rosemary, thyme, sage and lavender. Herbs with a high moisture content like basil and mint, can go mouldy before they dry out so oven drying is preferable. Spread the stems thinly on a baking tray and place in a very low oven (70-80 C) for a couple of hours, opening the door occasionally to release the moist air.

By The Twig - Well Seasoned, Apr 10 2015 08:00AM

We wrote on Wednesday about the lack of fresh veggies coming from the garden this month. But one crop is already thriving - fresh garden herbs are loving the warmer weather and we're getting some fantastic growth in the WS herb garden.

April and May will see a variety of home-grown soft green herbs coming into season including parsley, basil, chervil, mint and wild marjoram (oregano). Of course, herbs won't provide a meal in themselves but they add fresh, feisty flavours to any number of dishes.

One of our real pleasures in the spring is making our first batch of fresh garden pesto. Traditional Italian pesto (Pesto Genovese) requires parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic and basil. But the Italian's don't have a monopoly on good food and you can make your own pesto with any combination of fresh green herbs - half the fun is using whatever you happen to have lots of and seeing how it turns out.

So, you can use our March recipe for wild garlic pesto as a guide for the ratios but otherwise feel completely free to experiment with any combination of ingredients. You'll need a stronger flavoured hard cheese but you certainly don’t have to use parmesan (a good strong cheddar makes a pesto tasty enough to match its finest Italian cousin.) Go nuts with the nuts - we've recently been using up some leftover walnuts from Christmas and they have a real depth of flavour and slightly bitter edge that really adds to the punch of the pesto. Finally, we tend to use a cold pressed British rapeseed oil rather than the traditional olive oil but you can certainly use any good quality oil you happen to have to hand.

The rule here is: there are no rules. Use whatever you have in the garden and in the kitchen, and as long as that includes some fresh herbs, a good quality oil and a punchy cheese, you'll end up with something marvellously Mediterranean in flavour but brilliantly British in origin. Stir your personalised pesto into soup, mix it with fresh pasta or drizzle over a bowl of freshly boiled new potatoes for a truly unique spring dish.

PS. If pesto ain't your thang, try mixing a good handful of finely chopped herbs into some fresh mayonnaise for an instant herby dip to accompany some spring chicken goujons or to pile on top of those first barbecue burgers.

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