About Lemon Balm
Lemon balm adds brightness to recipes in any season. Add to pasta and stir fries for a little zing. It's excellent with fish and poultry (I like to put a little butter and lemon balm under the skin of our chicken breasts), and it makes really refreshing tea. See Mint Tea recipe- substitute all or some of the mint with lemon balm.
Lemon balm is also a wonderful insect repellent (similar to citronella). Just tear and crush some leaves in your hands and rub on your skin before going out to work in the garden or look at the stars; it's bug-free aroma therapy!
Trim the stem ends, and place in a glass or jar with an inch or so of water, just like you would a flower bouquet, and store in the refrigerator. Place a loose plastic bag over the top. The lemon balm should stay fresh for 3-4 days, often longer. Change the water in the glass if it starts to discolor.
Or, you can wrap them (unwashed) in a cloth or paper towel, and store them in a loose plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Lemon Balm Tea
About 1/2 - 3/4 c. leaves for every 1 c. water. Sweeten with a little honey if desired.
Wash leaves. Tear, pinch, and twist them to release their aromatic "juices".
Place in your cup, pitcher, or teapot.
Add boiling water and allow to steep for a couple of minutes, until it is to your desired strength. Pour through a sieve to strain out the leaves. Enjoy! To chill, first allow to get to room temperature, and then refrigerate. Pour over ice to enjoy; add a bit of honey and/or lemon if you wish.
Freezing Fresh Herbs
Clean, and thoroughly dry the herbs. Remove the leaves from the stems. Chop them if you wish to have the prep work done ahead.
Lay them on a cookie sheet, and set in the freezer. When they’re frozen, put into a freezer-grade ziplock bag, and you’re done. (Be really sure to push all of the air out when sealing).
Note: You may freeze the whole stem; I just find that I’m glad when I pull the bag out later that I did the work of removing the leaves in advance.
Another freezing trick:
You can also “wet” freeze your herbs by pushing the leaves (chopped or not) into ice cube trays, or small freezer containers. Pour a little water or stock over them, filling only half full. The herbs will float to the top, so put into the freezer until fairly frozen and then add more liquid before freezing solid. Place cubes into freezer grade ziplock bag for easier storage.
I freeze mint in water so that I can use it for tea, and herbs such as oregano in stock since I know I’ll put them into soups or sautés.
I also sometimes freeze a nice, single leaf in a cube of water or lemonade (perhaps along with a berry) to add to a refreshing drink later.
Drying Fresh Herbs
I prefer to freeze my herbs because I find it mush easier. If I do dry an herb, it is not a "soft" herb like mint or parsley- I never seem to have any luck with them. I think it is because they have a very high water content. Mine seem to get moldy before they dry. But it could just be me... The drying method works much better with "hard" herbs like rosemary and thyme; but my opinion is that it's still much easier just to freeze those too.
Gather your herbs into small bunches and secure with a rubber band, clothes pin, or twist tie. Gently rinse, (so you don’t bruise the leaves), lightly shake off the water and pat with a towel to remove excess moisture. Hang upside down in a DRY, DARK place inside your house.
The herbs will take 2 weeks or so to dry, depending on the type. The end result should be similar to what you are used seeing when you purchase dried herbs in the store. Once they are completely dried, hold bunches over wax paper and run your fingers down the stems to remove leaves. Then simply pick up the wax paper and slide the herbs into a labeled freezer grade ziplock bag or air-tight jar.
Here’s another trick that I got from an herb farmer: Place the clean, dry herbs in a paper bag along with a paper towel. Close the bag tightly, and allow the herbs to dry out. He says this method helps keep the herbs clean, isolated from other odors, and increases the flavor intensity.
Liz Talley, Urban Graze
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