'Dig In!': 8 Ways To Use Fresh Herbs
It's prime growing season for herbs, which means big, lush plants that may be a bit overgrown. If you're dealing with an abundance of herbs, you'll be happy to know there's an abundance of ways to use them.
Venice Williams is an expert on herbs. She the executive director of Alice’s Garden and specializes in growing and using herbs.
Williams joins Lake Effect for her regular series, Dig In!, and shares her tips on how to best use fresh herbs:
1. Put in vases around the house
"A simple way to not feel overwhelmed is to think of using herbs as cut flowers. They should be in your bathroom, in your bedroom, in your kitchen," says Williams.
2. Infused herbal honey
To create an herbal honey, all you need to do is put herbs into honey and wait. Let them sit for at least a week to allow the flavor of the herbs to permeate the honey, she explains.
3. Simple syrups
"Simple syrups are just that — equal parts water to equal parts sugar, [add in] your favorite herb," says Williams. Put it in a pot on low heat and stir it until it begins to thicken like a syrup. These syrups have a lot of different uses and can be great for flavoring a cocktail or mocktail.
4. Fresh herbal teas
"Every morning during this time of year, I get up, I go out my front door or my back door, I harvest some holy basil, lemon balm, some mint. I bring it in the house, put it in the pot, I add some water, put it on a very, very low heat," she explains. "Set a timer and let the herbs simmer. Depending upon the size of your pot, we're talking about 10 to 15 minutes. Then you turn that fire off, keep it covered and then let it be infused some more."
5. Pillow and room sprays
"Whether you want to use spring water or distilled water; some people like witch hazel, some people like to mix it up with a little bit of vegetable glycerin so that it sticks, but imagine a lovely chamomile-lavender pillow spray that you are using before you go to bed," says Williams. Just combine lavender or other herbs with water, distilled water or witch hazel, and put in a spray bottle.
6. Salad dressing, herbal vinegars & herbal butters
"This is high time for kitchen creation. ... All of these things are just so simple," says Williams.
Just add fresh herbs to vinegar, oils and butter. You can add as much as you like and add in salt or other seasonings, depending on your taste. Letting the herbs steep for a few days will deepen the flavor. Herbal butters can also be frozen and used later. Williams suggests putting them in an ice cube tray, waiting until they're fully frozen and then switch them to a plastic bag for storage in the freezer, making it easier to use a smaller serving of butter.
There are plenty of sauces that can be made with fresh herbs and freezing them can extend their longevity. Williams says one of her favorite barbecue sauces is made with lavender. Pesto, a perennial favorite among people who grow basil, can also be made with a variety of other herbs.
Williams explains, "I like to make a mixed-herb pesto that often has cilantro and tarragon, dill, mint."
8. Cook with kids
"This is a perfect time to bring kids into the kitchen. Herbs are so non-intimidating and we have so many of them that they can't mess them up," says Williams. Cutting herbs for a salad or a meal is an easy way to introduce kids to cooking and herbs are hearty enough that they can handle a lot of handling from unskilled chefs.