Harvest & Preserving Herbs from Your Garden

Gardening with herbs personalizes our experience within the landscape. Valued for their flavoring, fragrance, medicinal, cosmetic, and culinary benefits, they play a vital role in humankind's health and well-being. The history of herbs teaches us about culture and tradition across generations. Rewarding as well as beneficial, herb gardens can be curated to the interests of homeowners. They're always a useful addition to a landscape when discovering their culinary or medicinal use is explored. While most landscapes are composed of trees and shrubs, herbs' addition will add ornamental and aromatic foliage and blend artfully with annuals and perennials to create dynamic and high-performing landscapes.

There are a variety of ways to use native herbs within your landscape. For most, the best way to start gardening with native herbs is to integrate a few into your existing landscape.

When you cook with herbs, you don't just toss different kinds of herbs together because you like them. How they blend and balance together affects the final flavor. This principle applies to successful growth, using native herbs, and how to harvest and preserve them.

Advice for Harvesting and Preserving Herbs

Harvesting can begin anytime there is good foliage on the plant to tolerate cutting. Except for annuals at the end of their season, never cut back a plant completely when harvesting.

Rules for Harvesting

  • Harvest herbs in the morning after any dew has dried and before the sun gets too hot
  • Pick healthy growth and remove damaged flowers and leaves
  • Only harvest what you have time to prepare and use
  • Wash, dry, and preserve herbs as quickly as possible after harvesting them

When to Harvest Different Parts of a Plant

  • Harvest leaves from herbs grown for their flavorful leaves just before the plant flowers.
  • Harvest flowers for drying before they are fully open.
  • Harvest root crops in fall when the plant parts are beginning to wither and dry. When harvest roots, carefully dig apart what you need, then replant the remainder of the root.
  • Harvest seeds when they are fully ripened. You can cut the whole plant or just the seed stalk.

Soak all wild-harvested greens for 20 minutes in a gallon of cold water combined with 3 tablespoons of vinegar or salt. Soaking will remove the dirt, insects, and other wild things clinging to the greens. When the gardens have finished soaking, gently wash and rinse in fresh water.

Air Drying Herbs

  • Tie largely stemmed herbs into loose bundles and hang them in your kitchen or a place with good air circulation. It can take a few days to several weeks for herbs to dry.
  • Strip the fresh leaves or flowers or plant stems and spread them across screens. A house window screen lined with cheesecloth or paper towels will work. Place screens in a well-vented area to dry.
  • Hang plants harvested upside down to dry with flowers/seed heads enclosed in paper bags catching seeds.
  • Thoroughly wash and scrub herb roots to remove dirt. Split roots and spread on screens in the open air.

Store dried herbs in clean glass jars away from heat and light. This will preserve their flavor and fragrance.

Herb Vinegars

Dry herb leaves, roots, seeds, and flowers can all be utilized to make vinegar. It is essential to use high-quality vinegar with an acidity level no lower than 5%. Place herb parts in a clear glass container, pour vinegar over them, tightly close the box, and let the container sit for several weeks. At the end of the steeping time, strain herbs from the vinegar and reboot.

Herb Butters

Combine 2 to 3 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs with 1 cup of softened, unsalted butter. Some cooks like to add a tablespoon of olive oil to give the herb-butter mixture a more spreadable texture. You can add a pinch of salt dissolved in a bit of lemon juice. Pack the butter into a small crock or form it into a log for slicing. Herb butter can be stored in a freezer for up to three months.

Freezing Fresh Herbs

Three are three main ways to freeze herbs.

  • Chop fresh-cut herbs with a knife, kitchen shears, or food processor. Evenly spread the herbs on a baking sheet and freeze overnight. Pack herbs in small containers to use for later.
  • Freezing herbs in stock or water work well for preserving herbs for use in soups and stews. Place finely chopped herbs in broth or water and freeze in ice cube trays. Remove frozen cubes and place them in plastic bags. You can freeze edible flowers whole by placing them in ice cube trays; they're significant to add to drinks.
  • To freeze herbs in oil, blend two cups of finely cut herbs into one-half cup of quality oil. The oil acts as a carrier for the herbs, so use enough oil to bind the mixture. Pack the herbs into small containers and freeze for up to a year. Chip or scrape off what is needed. Herbs frozen in oil must be kept frozen until use.

In pots or containers, gardens, and raised beds, herbs are a must for entertaining in the garden. Their beauty, fragrance, and flavors will grace your garden, as well as your kitchen, for many years to come.

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