You’ve covered your lawn furniture, cut your hostas to the ground, and raked and bagged your weight in leaves, but you haven’t the heart to cut back your wild and tangled herb garden, especially now that the sage is looking its healthiest, velvety and defiantly spring green. You can go a few ways with the last herbs standing: You can take cuttings or bring the rosemary, thyme, and sage plants in for the winter; let the tender annuals die, mulch the perennials, and hunker down until spring; harvest and store them; or harvest and use them.
According to the Minnesota State Horticultural Society’s Month-by-Month Gardening in Minnesota by Melinda Myers, your chives, lavender, mints, sage, tarragon, and thyme plants are all likely to survive winter; keep watering them until the ground freezes. Your sage will thrive outdoors long enough to make an appearance at Thanksgiving as dressing alongside your turkey, but October is the time to move the rosemary indoors for a long winter vacation on a sunny windowsill. You’re probably too late to dig up your parsley and chives (that would be a September project), but if you’ve grown your herbs in unglazed clay pots and buried them to the rim (leaving the top inch or two of the pot exposed) in your garden in spring, just dig them up now and bring them indoors. (Growing mint in pots has the additional advantage of keeping it from invading the rest of your garden.) Take cuttings now of marjoram, mint, oregano, sage, parsley, and winter savory to sprout for your indoor window-sill herb garden.
If you want to harvest and dry the herbs, you can gather them in small bundles, bind at the stems with a rubber-band, and hang them upside down to dry. Or, you can dry them in the oven on the lowest setting with the door cracked: Just spread them on a cookie sheet and leave them until they are brittle. You can even microwave them on a single layer of paper towels: Blast on high for three minutes, then keep going in 20-second bursts until the herbs are crumbly. You can also freeze your herbs in plastic freezer bags or with a bit of water in ice cube trays for later use.
A good way to use up your herbs is to make herb-flavored olive oil (recipe below) that you can use in your cooking over the next several months, mixed into mashed potatoes, drizzled over polenta or roasted vegetables, or baked into a savory monkey bread (recipe below).
Flavored Olive Oil with Fresh Herbs and Garlic
Makes about ½ cup
1 c extra-virgin olive oil
½ c fresh herb leaves, packed, individually or in any combination of your choosing: rosemary, thyme, savory, sage, or oregano
Up to 5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
(Also, up to 6 shallots, thinly sliced. We elected to omit the shallots for the Flavored Olive Oil we used for the monkey bread below.)
1. In a small pan over low heat, combine the herbs, olive oil, and garlic slices until small bubbles form.
2. Reduce heat to low and continue to heat until the color of the herbs fades and the garlic is soft, about three to four minutes.
3. Remove from heat. Steep for two hours or, for a more intense flavor, overnight.
4. Strain into a clean, dry jar with a lid that seals tight. Will keep up to three months.
Adapted from A New Way to Cook, by Sally Schneider and Maria Robledo.
This savory and buttery-rich monkey bread would be a homey addition to your Thanksgiving table or on the hors d’oeuvres table at a cozy cocktail party. The Flavored Olive Oil with Fresh Herbs and Garlic adds subtle flavor.
Olive Oil and Herb Monkey Bread
Serves 10 to 12
¼ c plus 2 tbsp Flavored Oil with Fresh Herbs and Garlic (recipe above)
¼ tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 recipe basic monkey bread dough: the L.A. Times’ version or Nancy Reagan’s version (leaving out the 4 ounces of melted butter and using the Flavored Olive Oil described above)
1. In a small bowl, combine the Flavored Olive Oil and several grinds of black pepper. Set aside.
2. Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle one-fourth-inch thick. Using a pizza cutter, cut the dough into rectangles, one by two inches.
3. Dip each rectangle of dough into the Flavored Olive Oil, shaking off any excess oil.
5. Cover the Bundt pan with plastic wrap. Set aside until the dough rises three-fourths up the sides of the pan, about 1 hour. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. Remove plastic wrap and bake the bread until it is puffed and slightly golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking for even coloring.
7. Cool the bread, still in the pan, for 15 minutes. Invert the bread gently onto a serving plate or platter. Serve warm.
Adapted from the LA Times.
U of M Extension on Drying and Freezing Herbs
National Garden Association on Drying and Freezing Herbs
Making Your Own Flavored Oils
Herb Infused Olive Oil
A New Way to Cook, by Sally Schneider and Maria Robledo
The Minnesota State Horticultural Society’s Month-by-Month Gardening in Minnesota by Melinda Myers