Last year, I realized that I simply can’t eat enough homemade pesto. I love spreading it on fresh bread, dipping veggies in it, using it in homemade salad dressings, and more. It’s particularly uplifting in the middle of winter, when its tangy flavor brings back memories of the warm summer garden. This year, I’m doubling the amount of basil in my garden, and I also plan on experimenting with herbal spreads made from dandelion greens, nettle, spicy arugula, kale, and sage.
Last week, when Shannon Stonger’s new book Traditionally Fermented Foods landed on my desk, I realized that in addition to pesto there’s a whole other way to preserve fresh herbs in a spreadable, tangy format that I’ve been missing out on— fermentation.
Fermenting fresh herbs is just as easy – if not easier – as making homemade sauerkraut or kimchi. Plus, your gut will thank you for the increased boost in healthful probiotics.
1 cup fresh, chopped herbs, such as basil, sage, rosemary, or cilantro
1 cup water
1 tsp sea salt
Pack a small jar full of fresh herbs that have been stripped from their stems, leaving a small amount of headspace at the top. Combine water and sea salt to form a brine, then pour the brine over the fresh herbs. Weigh the concoction down so that all the herbs are submerged under the brine (you can use a rock, small plate, ceramic fermentation weight, or a plastic bag filled with water). Let the herbs ferment for five to 10 days or until they taste tangy and start bubbling.
FYI: Because green herbs oxidize with time, your ferment may turn black. This is OK and your fermentation will still be safe to eat.
The finished ferment should last unopened in cold storage for several months. Once opened, it will store for several weeks at room temperature or up to six months in the refrigerator.
It's incredible how much salt water breaks down the fresh herbs over time. I used the Masontops Complete Mason Jar Fermentation Kit, which includes all the materials to transform mason jars into fermentation vessels, including glass weights, a tamper, and food-grade "pickle pipes" that release air.
Spread your fermented herb paste on a sandwich, mix some into pasta or rice dishes, add it to marinades and dressings, or mix with yogurt for a tangy twist on tzatziki. For a more traditional pesto flavor, mix your fermented paste with olive oil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts before eating. In Shannon’s book, she includes a recipe for homemade mayonnaise that uses the brine from herbal ferments; now that’s getting creative.
You may find additional inspiration in these articles:
And don’t miss this lovely essay about Chef Olia Hercules’ Ukrainian childhood, which included herbal ferments.
If these articles spark your interest and you want to learn more about the health benefits of ferments and receive dozens of unique recipes, then check out The Craft of Herbal Fermentation Course, which is hosted through The Herbal Academy. The course costs $119 and includes in-depth written discussions, video tutorials, charts, and recipes on every aspect of herbal fermentation — from beer and mead to kombucha, water kefir, and fermented foods.
Hannah was inspired to write this blog post during her time enrolled in The Herbal Academy’s online school where she worked her way through the Entrepreneur Herbalist Package. She is managing editor for Heirloom Gardener and senior editor for Mother Earth News. Read all of Hannah's posts here.