Routt County CSU Extension: Garden herbs give lift to recipes

Karen Massey/For Steamboat Today

To learn about dehydrating herbs and other foods, Routt County Extension will host a free basics of food dehydration class from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, June 11, at the CSU Extension office in the annex behind the Historic Courthouse. No registration is required, but space will be limited.

At long last, the weather is warming, and it’s time to start work in the garden. For my garden, the greens and garlic go in the raised garden plot, colorful annuals decorate the flower bed and herbs are tucked into any remaining sunny spaces. I come out to my garden most evenings, snipping at my chives, thyme and mint, which were some of the first plants to emerge this season. Not only do they add texture and color to my garden, but they also add a burst of brightness to my recipes.

Best of all, herbs add freshness and flavor without adding unwanted calories and fat. The natural oils in the cell walls of the plant provide the flavor. When you crush the leaves or seeds, the herb releases its flavor. Consider it a form of edible landscaping.

Many herbs can be easily grown in our mountain environment. While spices are limited to tropical climates, herbs thrive at our altitude. Thyme is a perennial ground cover in my garden that I add to soups and sauces. French tarragon makes a nice addition to fish and chicken dishes. Rosemary is one of my favorites for Mediterranean-inspired dishes. The challenge with rosemary is to remember to bring it in for the winter.

With a little effort, you can grow enough herbs to use all year long. Delicate, leafy herbs like basil, cilantro, dill, chives, parsley and tarragon contain fragile, more volatile flavor molecules that are best when added fresh at the end of cooking. Heartier and often woody herbs like oregano, thyme, sage and rosemary contain stable flavoring compounds that will hold up to longer cooking times. Dehydrate the excess herbs, and store them in an airtight container. Many herbs can be blended with oil or water and frozen in ice cube trays. In the winter, you can just slip an herb cube into your soup for added flavor.

Ideally, the flavor of herbs should complement, not overpower, the natural flavor of your food.

Fresh herbs have a clean freshness, while dried herbs can have an earthy quality. In general, you can make substitutions for the different forms of herbs. One tablespoon of a fresh herb is equal to one teaspoon of dried and 1/4 teaspoon of the herb in a powdered form. Just remember when you are substituting that dried herbs are more potent than fresh. When using dried herbs, make sure the recipe includes plenty of liquid to rehydrate the herbs, allowing their flavors to release.

Karen Massey is a registered dietitian nutritionist and family and consumer science Extension agent with Colorado State University Extension in Routt County. Questions call 879-0825 or email

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