If you’re looking for some new, creative ways to use your fresh and dried herbs, infusions may be the way to go! You can infuse many things with herbal flavors, such as honey, oil, vinegar, salt and alcohol. Store bought herbal infusions of high quality can be expensive and hard to come by, which is all the more reason to make your own! You can use fresh or dried herbs in most of these, unless otherwise noted, and each infusion can be used in a multitude of applications.
When making infused oils, be sure to start with a good base oil. The oils best used for infusions are plant based, such as olive oil, sunflower oil or almond oil. Make sure your selected herbs are clean and dry before chopping or bruising them to release their natural oils, as any water left on the herbs when they are closed up in the jar can grow bacteria. Select your jar (canning jars or any bottles with rubber stoppers will work well) and toss the herbs into the bottom of the jar before filling the jar with your selected oil. Seal the jar tightly and let it sit for 1-2 weeks, or until it has reached your desired potency. You can strain the herbs out once the infusion has reached your desired potency. If you used fresh herbs, be sure to use the infusion within a week or two to prevent bacteria from growing. If you used dried herbs, the infusion can last for around a month. Keep refrigerated to deter bacterial growth.
Use infused vinegars in marinades, salad dressings, soups and more. The best types of vinegars to use as bases are white wine, red wine, or apple cider. Use approximately 2 cups of vinegar to 1 cup of loosely packed fresh herbs (or 1/2 cup dried herbs). You can adjust this amount based on whether you want a stronger or a milder infusion. Make sure you are using clean, good-looking herbs that do not have any signs of wilting, browning or yellowing. First, rinse or wash your fresh herbs and gently bruise or mash the herbs to release their natural oils. Place them in the bottom of a sterilized jar and fill the rest of the way with your chosen vinegar. Do not use any metal utensils or metal lids of any kind, as the vinegar can react badly with the metal. Seal the jar tightly and place in a dark place that is room temperature for 1-2 weeks, depending on your desired infusion strength. If the strength is not as desired after the first two weeks, add fresh herbs and steep longer. Once it has reached desired strength, strain the herbs out and re-bottle the vinegar in your chosen container.
Most suggest using dried herbs for infusing honey, as the risk of bacterial growth with fresh herbs is fairly high. Generally 1-2 tablespoons per 1 cup of honey is a good place to start measurement-wise. Select clean, dry jars with clean, dry lids of whatever size you prefer. Use either full sprigs or chopped chunks of dried herbs (though chopped will make them harder to strain out) and place them in the bottom of your jar. Fill the jar almost to the top with honey (a lighter flavored honey works best, such as orange blossom) and stir to mix the herbs in with a wooden implement. Fill the jar the rest of the way to the top with honey, wipe the rim of the jar with a damp cloth and seal the jar with the lid. Let the herbs infuse for at least 5 days, turning the jar over if the herbs float to the top to keep them fully coated with honey. After the infusion has reached your desired intensity, strain the honey into a new jar to remove the dried herbs. Store the honey in a cool, dry place and it will last indefinitely.
These salt infusions can be used on any items you would sprinkle normal salt on, just with an added burst of flavor. Use dried herbs at a ratio of 1 teaspoon per 1/4 cup of salt. Use a coarser, flakier salt (such as kosher or sea salt) for a better distribution of the flavoring. Make sure that your dried herbs are chopped finely before putting them in a food processor or mortar with your chose salt and pulsing or grinding them just until everything is incorporated. Store in an airtight container for up to a year (although the flavoring will diminish over time). You can also use this process for making infused sugars.
Simple syrups can be used for a multitude of things, such as additives to teas, cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, or simply drizzled over a bowl of fresh fruit. Use fresh herbs for this infusion; about 4-6 fresh sprigs per batch depending on desired potency. Rinse your herbs carefully, making sure they’re clean and free of any dirt. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil and add 1 cup of sugar, whisking until dissolved. Add your fresh herb sprigs and boil for an additional 60 seconds before removing the mixture from heat and allowing the herbs to steep in it for an additional 30 minutes as it cools. After the mixture is cooled, remove as much of the herbs as you can by hand before straining the syrup through a fine mesh strainer or several layers of cheese cloth into a clean jar or bottle with a tight sealing lid. Store in the refrigerator.
Lighter spirits such as vodka, gin and light rum are suggested for these infusions, so as to not overpower the flavors of the infusion. Choosing a better quality spirit is always suggested, as the impurities that are sometimes in cheaper liquor can soil the taste of the infusion. For best results, use fresh ingredients only. Use your imagination when coming up with flavor combinations! Choose a clean, airtight jar (such as a quart mason jar) and place inside your clean, fresh herbs, spices or fruits. Fill the jar the rest of the way up with your chosen spirit. Shake the jar and taste test daily for up to 3-5 days and store in a cool, dark place. Once your infusion has reached the desired intensity, strain the fresh ingredients out and the infused liquor into a clean jar or bottle.