Herbs are useful as well as attractive. They perform beautifully in dried flower crafts, as seasonings and in remedies. It's a shame to let them grow, blossom and fade without taking advantage of all their many properties. So we offer this simple guide to harvesting and preserving your herbs.
When you harvest your herbs will depend, to some extent, on whether roots, flowers or leaves are used, and on what you'll be using them for. If you're crafting potpourri, for instance, you might gather rose petals, calendula flowers or poppy pods. In the kitchen, you might need basil leaves, chive flowers or dill seed. Making medicine, you might reach for feverfew leaves, camomile flowers or marshmallow root (herbs intended for medicines are harvested and dried by the same “rules” as other herbs). Generally, whatever your end result, keep these points in mind:
• Pick herbs on dry days only, late in the morning, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is hot. Or pick at dusk.
• Check plants daily: many open or mature quickly once they begin.
• For optimal flavour, harvest culinary herbs just before buds open. (Once the plant flowers, it concentrates its vitality on blooms rather than leaves.)
• For medicinal uses, harvest roots in fall before the ground freezes, and don't harvest first-year plants-the roots need time to develop, strengthen and store the medicinal properties.
• Harvest seeds when they turn from green to brown. Some may be brown but are still moist inside, so make sure seeds are also brittle and crushable.
• Harvest flowers just prior to full bloom.
• Discard wilted, yellowed or insect-attacked leaves, flowers, seeds or roots.
• Fresh herbs are fragile. Handle gently, taking care not to crush leaves or flowers.
Dill, rosemary, savory and sage-the treasures of your herb garden can translate into teas, medicines and heaven-sent seasonings. Harvest culinary herbs before their flowers bud, dry using a variety of simple techniques, and enjoy.
A piece of screening, elevated so air can flow under it, is perfect for drying small-stemmed plants such as thyme, and flowers such as lavender and geranium (left). Harvest flowers just prior to full bloom, and seeds-sunflower, poppy and coriander-when they turn from green to brown.
Many soft-leafed herbs-dill, chives, parsley, lovage and fennel-freeze even better than they dry. Put clean, dry herbs, whole or chopped, into plastic freezer bags. Or slip them into ice-cube trays and top with water. Hanging herbs in paper bags keeps dust and insects out.