Harvesting And Drying Herbs

I can help you with the harvesting and drying of herbs from your herb garden.

Have you grown all your herbs in your herb garden and now you are ready to harvest and also to dry your herbs?

As you probably already know harvesting is almost the best part of having a herb garden. Depending on the individual plant, the herbs are harvested for their leaves, flowers, seeds, roots or for the entire plant. August, throughout most of the great temperate area, is harvest time for herbs. The weather is usually just about right then. The best time of the day for the harvest is after the dew has dried, before the sun gets really hot, at the moment when the plants contain a maximum amount of essential oils. As far as most herbs are concerned, this moment is when the buds burst into full flower. Except as in the case of mints, if harvesting is delayed until the plants are in full flower, much of the essential oils are lost.

Now I usually cut the Perennials down to one-third of their height, and I also remove the side branches with their stems. I also cut down annuals to within three inches. In both cases, if you do this cutting properly, another crop will just grow up, and a second harvest can be had before the frost comes in the fall or winter.

Now be sure to label these herbs, have your labels ready and your jars ready before starting to harvest then you won't get the herbs mixed up as you might easily do if you aren't careful.

Let's talk about drying the herbs now, be sure to examine each one, take off the rusty, coarse leaves also. If there is any soil clining to the remaining leaves, then it can be washed off lightly, but the plants must not be soaked. When this has been done, you are ready to dry the plant. Now there are two methods for drying, in one method, the leaves are stripped from the stalks and spread on a screen to dry,or without removed the leaves,the stems can be tied into small bundles to be hung up. The first method is particularly good for drying any of the short-stemmed herbs such as Thyme (Thymus serplyllum), although in this case it is easier to dry the entire plant without removing the leaves. Bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) are frequently dried by the second method. In either case, the plants should not be exposed to sunlight, yet there must be a free circulation of air around the plants from all sides to keep them from molding before they are thoroughly dry. The drying may be done indoors or out, but as the plants dry they must be covered with cheesecloth or some other light covering to keep the leaves from blowing away or dropping off. They should be dry in about ten days.

When the leaves of the culinary herbs are crisp and brittle, they can be rubbed through a sieve into labeled jars, ready for winter use. Leaves for tests, however, should be left whole. Woody-stemmed plants or those with small, Thyme-like leaves are best preserved if they are put through a coarse grinder, such as a meat grinder, stem and all.

Drying Seed: Now seed drying takes about two weeks, when the stalk is dry and the seeds are brownish looking, then you will need to remove the head of the flower. Then I spread them on a cloth stretched on a screen for about a week and then gently separate them to get the seeds from the chaff. The seeds must be dried for another week then can be put into bottles.

Drying Roots: Now root drying takes mor time, and the roots can be dug either in the fall or in the spring, (I prefer fall), when the plant is still dormant. They should be dug and cleaned and also spread on screens to dry. Large roots can be split, and they must be turned every few days. I find it usually takes a month or more to complete the drying.

Drying Flowers: I love drying herb flowers and harvest them by cutting off all the heads and do this when the flowers are in full bloom. As in the other methods, they are spread thinly on screens to dry. The essential oils are stored only in the yellow part of the flower, although the whole head can be used. When they are thoroughly dry, the flower heads are rubbed through a sieve.

In each instance, be very carefully to label throughout the process and take a look at each individual jar about two weeks later to make sure no moisture has leaked in.

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