Let’s talk about harvesting Herbs!

Harvesting herbs is dependent on the type you are growing and the plant part you intend to use. For example, when harvesting mint, you’ll just be picking the leaves. In other cases, you may be picking the flowers or seeds.

As a general rule, herbs grown for their leaves should be harvested before they flower. After they flower, most herbs tend to lose their flavor or become bitter. You also want to pick the leaves when they are tender and contain the highest amount of oil, which supplies taste and fragrance.   For most herbs, the best time to pick is early in the morning just as the dew evaporates, but before the heat of the day. Do not wash the leaves or the oils will be lost.

Many flowering herbs, like lavender, borage and chamomile, should be harvested before they are fully open. Harvest herbs grown for their seeds, like dill, fennel, coriander and caraway, as the seed pods begin changing color.  Annual herbs can be harvested right up until frost.  Perennial herbs should not be snipped past August. Harvesting perennials after this date may stimulate new growth that will not harden-off before the cold of winter.

 Preserving Herbs

Almost always, herbs taste best when used fresh, after picking their flavor and aroma deteriorates quickly. Placing them in a glass of water will help them keep fresh and help retain their flavor for a couple of hours to a couple of days. 

Many fresh herbs, including rosemary, chives and thyme, can be stored a week or longer in your refrigerators’ vegetable bin. Wrap them in a damp paper towel and then place in an open or a perforated plastic bag. Remember, the longer herbs are stored the greater their flavor loss will be. 

Drying Herbs

For long term storage, and to retain the highest flavor and quality, consider drying herbs.  Dried herbs can be kept for two or three years.

 To dry sturdy, low moisture herbs, like rosemary, thyme, dill, savory, sage, and parsley, cut whole branches of the plant and gently rinse in cool water. Tie the cuttings in small bunches and hang upside down in a dark, well-ventilated and dust-free room. When dry, usually within 2 to 3 weeks, remove the leaves from the stems and store whole in an air tight container. Crush or grind just before use.

 Herbs with large, tender leaves and a high moisture content, including bay leaf, basil, lemon balm, lovage, mint, lemon verbena and tarragon, should be dried quickly to prevent mold. You can dry these herbs on frames covered with netting or window screen. Simply strip the best

leaves from the stems and lay them in a single layer on the drying rack. Turn during the first few days and after about a week, when the leaves are completely dry, remove them and store in tightly closed containers for later use. 

Freezing Herbs

Another easy method for preserving herbs is to freeze them. Simply wash the herbs and pat them dry, spread them out in a single layer on a pan, and put the pan into the freezer. When frozen, place the herbs in an air tight plastic container or bag and keep them in the freezer until ready to use.

Basil, borage, chives, dill, lemongrass, mint, oregano, sage, savory, tarragon and thyme all freeze well and will maintain their quality for up to six months. Chop chives and lemongrass before you freeze them. These herbs are thin and will freeze quickly.

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