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Use Herbs More Effectively

By Janet Hackert, University of Missouri Extension Regional Nutrition and Health Education Specialist

Using herbs is a great way to increase and enhance the flavors of foods and reduce the use of salt. Here are some tips for using herbs effectively.

Herbs get their rich flavors from volatiles in the plants. It is also what gives them their distinctive aromas. To maximize these flavors for cooked foods, do not add fresh herbs and spices during the hottest part of the process. Rather, if high heat is to be used, wait to add the seasonings until the dish is simmering or closer to the end of the process. If using dried herbs, add these to slow-cooked dishes like pastas, stews, soups and casseroles. Incorporate them early on so they have time to rehydrate and infuse their flavor throughout the dish.

University of Missouri Extension publication N362 Herbs and Spices has two charts that help a cook who is new to the use of an herb or spice figure out how or when to use it. The one chart lists commons herbs and spices then shows what dishes it is used in. For example, thyme can be used in dishes like soups, stews, sauces and meat loaf, and with vegetables like onions, carrots and beets. In the other chart, there is a list of vegetables and seasonings that are popular with each one. For example, Brussel sprouts can be seasoned with basil, caraway or dill and squash can be enhanced with allspice, basil, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mustard, nutmeg or rosemary, depending on the taste desired.

Storing herbs well can prolong their shelf life and keep them flavorful. Fresh herbs can be kept fresh for up to a week by snipping the ends of their stems, wrapping them in wet paper towels, placing in a plastic bag and storing in the produce bin of the refrigerator. Keep them in sight, though, so they get used and not wasted. If there is more in the bunch than will be used while they can stay fresh, extra can be dried or frozen for later use. Larger quantities of many leafy herbs can be crushed and frozen in ice cube trays. Remove frozen herb cubes and place in a freezer container for conveniently-sized quantities – just thaw and use.

Dried herbs will last up to one year if stored in airtight containers, out of direct light and away from strong heat. Keeping them dry is also key to retaining their flavor. has a handout, 10 Tips on Using Herbs and Spices, on their web site. For more information on using herbs effectively, or any other topic, contact me, Janet Hackert, at 660-425-6434 or or your local University of Missouri Extension office. University of Missouri Extension - your one-stop source for practical education on almost anything.

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Northwest Missouri Extension News You Can Use

This monthly newsletter provides practical advice on a variety of subjects and reports on extension activities throughout the region. Northwest Missouri Extension News You Can Use

Don't guess. Soil tests save time and money.

Soil testing is the best guide to the wise and efficient use of fertilizer and soil amendments, said Manjula Nathan, director of the University of Missouri Extension Soil Testing and Plant Diagnostic Services. 

Whether you grow acres of row crops or have a vegetable patch in the backyard, a soil test will provide you with an analysis of nutrients and a set of recommendations for any improvements.

"We frequently get questions from customers like, "I apply fertilizer every year. How come my plants are not doing well?" Nathan said. 

"Most of the time the problem is they never have done a soil test, but have been guessing on fertilizer requirements," she said. "They do not realize that by guessing they are wasting money by over- or underapplication, and the excess fertilizer can end up in streams, ponds and underground water, polluting the environment."

Soil testing can be done through the extension office where you can ask to check out the soil probe to use to obtain your soil sample and also pick up a soil sample box to put your soil in. The cost is $16 for one sample, $14 each for two, three, or four samples, and $13 each for five or more samples. Soil testing publications

Trees add value to your landscape

Trees can provide your home with shade, wind protection and visual appeal. They can reduce energy costs, provide recreation for children and habitat for wildlife.

Newly planted trees need special attention, and not all trees are suitable for all conditions. MU Extension’s horticulture experts have developed a series of publications to help you choose the right tree and get it established.

MU Extension publication G6800, Selecting Landscape Plants: Shade Trees

MU Extension publication G6805, Selecting Landscape Plants: Flowering Trees

MU Extension publication G6810, Selecting Landscape Plants: Uncommon Trees for Specimen Plantings

MU Extension publication G6815, Selecting Landscape Plants: Needled Evergreens

MU Extension publication G6820, Selecting Landscape Plants: Broad-leaved Evergreens

MU Extension publication G6850, How to Plant a Tree