By Bonnie Kirn Donahue
Extension Master Gardener
University of Vermont
Do you have herbs and flowers that you dried or preserved last summer still sitting in your cupboard or freezer? If so, now is a great time to pull them out and put them to good use.
Dried herbs can be used in many ways depending on their variety and flavor profile. Some might be better for sweet dishes, such as lavender and anise hyssop, and some for savory dishes, including dill and tarragon.
Before you start, check to see if there are any signs of mold, moisture or odd smells. If there are, it is best to discard these.
Mint, chamomile and other dried floral herbs are ideal for making tea. Simply place the dried leaves or flowers in a mug or teapot, and then pour in boiling water. Use about a teaspoon of herbs per mug or 1/4 cup per pot. Let steep for 3-5 minutes or to taste.
If you're using an infuser, remove when the tea is steeped to your liking. For loose leaf tea, after steeping you can pass it through a strainer to remove the large pieces.
If you're longing for summer, start experimenting with iced teas. You can combine different varieties of edible dried flowers to make new flavors. Adding lemon, berries or other fruit while steeping the tea allows you to test out new summer flavors.
Prior to experimenting, you may want to check with your doctor to make sure herbal teas are safe for you based on your medical history or medications.
You also can add floral or savory dried herbs to baked goods. Lavender infuses new flavor in butter cookies and other baked goods. Licorice-flavored anise hyssop can transform muffins, cakes and cookies. Savory basil, thyme and dill can turn a regular biscuit into a special treat. Experiment with how much to add to get the desired taste.
Or add herbs directly to your butter. Beat together a stick of room-temperature butter and dried herbs, such as dill or thyme (to taste), until combined. Use it on toast, eggs, veggies, meats and other foods.
Salves, lotions or soaps are another good way to use up the dried herbs you harvested. Calendula flowers, which dry in vibrant yellows and oranges, can be used for body products, as well as teas, adding a touch of their lovely summer color.
If you froze herbs, they can add a surprising summer flavor to cooked dishes. Before using, discard any herbs that are freezer-burned. Make sure to separate the soft leaves from the woody stems while they are still frozen. Frozen herbs thaw really quickly and can easily turn to mush.
Still have tomatoes in the freezer from last summer? Or maybe a can of tomatoes on the shelf? Use some of those frozen or dried herbs, such as basil, oregano, parsley and garlic to make a quick homemade marinara sauce.
Rethink your weekly protein dishes. How would a marinade or sauce made with dill, cilantro or parsley boost dishes in your meal rotation each week?
Soups are another great way to use extra dried herbs. A quick internet search for recipes that include your herbs will bring up so many possibilities. This could also be the perfect time to try a dish from another culture or cuisine.
While you wait for warmer weather, dig into your pantry or freezer and use the lovely tastes of last summer, to tide you over until you can harvest fresh again.