Herbs are meant to be used. Here’s a quick guide for harvesting, drying and storing herbs from your garden. Whichever method you choose to use be sure to label the dried or frozen final product for future use.
Tips for Harvesting Herbs:
- Ideally aim to harvest herbs on a sunny day after the dew is dried. Extra moisture can cause the plants to rot rather than dry out.
- If the plants are dirty or have been sprayed with chemicals it is best to mist the plants the day before harvesting to wash off the dirt and chemicals rather than washing them afterwards.
- Leafy herbs reach peak flavor right before their flowers open making it an ideal time to harvest them.
- For harvesting seeds, try to harvest seed heads before the seeds start to disperse to ensure maximum yield.
- Perennials can be harvested throughout the summer by trimming off ⅓ of the foliage at a time. This way the plant can bounce back and encourages regrowth. Late in the season harvest sparingly to leave the plant with enough reserves to get through the winter. This is especially important for the first season of growth.
- Annuals can be trimmed throughout the season as needed to encourage bushier growth. At the end of the season feel free to pull up the whole plant to get as much as possible, since it won’t make it through the winter or alternatively you could bring it indoors and try to winter it over. Be careful of which herbs you overwinter because some herbs do not stay true to taste in further growing seasons.
There are a bunch of different ways to dry herbs. Here are a couple to try!
- Hanging drying – gather freshly harvested bundles of herbs and tie together with string or a rubber band, hang upside down in a dark, dry airy place. Some place a paper bag around their bundles with air holes poked in it to decrease exposure to light and dust. Allow to dry for 2 weeks or until they crumble to the touch. Stripe leaves from stalks and store in airtight dark container. For seeds – seed heads can be stored whole or after separating seed from chaff
- Screen drying works for small quantities or for leaves, seeds, and seed heads that have been removed from stem. Spread single layer of herbs over fine mesh and place where air circulates freely. Screen dried herbs take a week or 2 to dry completely.
- Oven drying is a quick way to dry herbs, but some say it vaporizes oils making herbs less potent. Preheat oven to 150 degrees F, scatter herbs on baking sheet, and place in oven. Leave the oven door ajar and stir every couple of minutes. Remove the tray once herbs are crisp.
- Microwave drying is another quick and easy way to dry herbs and the dried herbs retain their colors! For microwave drying, wash and spread fresh herbs on two layers of paper towels on top of a microwave safe plate (NOTE: do not use recycled paper towels – may contain bits of metal!). Cover herbs with another paper towel and microwave on high for 1 minute. Continue microwaving in 20 second intervals until completely the herbs are completely dry and easily crumbled. Crumble herbs by twisting in paper towels or powder using a mortar and pestle.
Be sure to store dried herbs in an airtight dark container. Herbs lose their flavor more quickly when exposed to light and air. However, even properly stored herbs will lose their flavor eventually.
Another way to preserve herbs is to freeze them. Herbs can be frozen in three different ways:
- Packed into an ice tray with olive oil or melted butter and frozen. These ice cubes become the perfect starter to many dishes or soups that usually require an oil of some kind to start. It is recommended to only use this method with “hard herbs” such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage. These herbs tend to be cooked when added to a dish. Soft herbs such as dill, lemon verbena and basil do not handle this kind of preservation well.
- Packed into an ice tray and have boiling water added to them before freezing. The boiling water blanches the herbs which helps them retain their flavor.
- Finally herbs can be put into ziploc baggies and frozen without any additives which essentially dries them out. This method works with “soft herbs” as well.
Note: in recipes generally 1 tsp dried herb can be substituted for 1 Tbsp fresh herb
Grow 15 Herbs for the Kitchen by Sheryl L. Felty