herbs

Pronunciation: [ERB; Brit. HERB]

The fragrant leaves of any of various annual or perennial plants that grow in temperate zones and do not have woody stems. Herbs can be purchased in dried or fresh forms. Some, like chives, are also sold frozen. Some of the more commonly available fresh herbs are basil, bay leaf, chervil, coriander, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, savory, tarragon and thyme. They can be found at various times of year, depending on the herb — many are available year-round. Choose herbs that have a clean, fresh fragrance and a bright color without any sign of wilting or browning. They can be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in a barely damp paper towel and sealed airtight in a plastic bag for up to five days. For storage up to 10 days (depending on the herb), place the bouquet of herbs, stem end down, in a tall glass and fill with cold water until the ends are covered by one inch. Cover the top of the bouquet with a plastic bag, securing it to the glass with a rubber band. Alternatively, the herb bouquet may be placed in a screw-top jar in the same manner and sealed tightly. Either way, the water should be changed every two days. Just before using, wash the herbs and blot dry with a paper towel. Dried herbs are available year-round in metal or cardboard boxes, bottles, cellophane packages and unglazed ceramic pots. They have a stronger, more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs but quickly lose their pungency. Crushed or ground herbs become lackluster more quickly than whole herbs. The more airtight the storage container, the longer the herbs will last. Transfer those in cardboard, tin, unglazed ceramic or cellophane to small glass bottles or jars with screw-top lids. Each time you use the herb, make sure the lid is tightly resealed. Store dried herbs in a cool, dark place for a maximum of six months. After three months, it is best to refrigerate them. Herbs are used to flavor all manner of food and drink. Most should be used judiciously because many of them can be quite pungent.

From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.

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