Preserving Herbs

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You’re using the herbs from your garden in your cooking and for health reasons, but how do you preserve them for later use?

basil blooming
basil blooming

Harvesting Herbals

First we’ll look at harvesting. When harvesting the flowers of your plants you want to harvest in the morning, before the flower opens. Preferably after the morning dew has evaporated. It’s easier to harvest flowers with the stems. You can remove the stems later, once they’ve dried.

Leafy herbs such as basil or oregano should be harvested before they bloom. This means before the plant has produced any flowers or flower buds. Do this in the morning after the morning dew has evaporated. Cut just above the stem where the leaf meets the stalk.

Fruits, such as elderberries should be harvested when they are ripe. You harvest just like you’re picking fruit from any bush/tree/vine.

Plants that you use the roots such as ginger, marshmallow or turmeric should be harvested at the end of their growing cycle much like harvesting potatoes. Just dig up the root.

For the plants that you use the seeds from such as flax or fennel should be harvested once the seed heads are fully mature. You harvest them from the plant and not from those that have fallen from the plant.

bay leaves
bay leaves

Preservation of Herbals

Your harvested flowers can be dried whole unless they’re large in which case you’ll want to separate the petals. You can lay out your flowers on clean towels and dry them inside on the kitchen counter IF you live in a place with low humidity. Those that reside in a more humid climate may want to dry outside in the sun. Great-grandpa used to dry his herbs on a flat piece of metal on top of a shed/chicken house. You can use old window screens laid over a surface where there’s air flow all around. Topping the screen with a 2nd screen will keep them from blowing away and keep bugs and birds from them. You can also dry in an oven or dehydrator at a very low temp.

Harvested leaves follow the same method. Whole if possible and spread out. I’ve also dried herbs by tying the stems together and hanging from a string on the covered porch. I’ve also dried by tying the stems, inserting into a paper sack and hanging the sack outdoors. The sack keeps bugs/birds from messing with them. Some folks, that live in dry climates, might hang theirs indoors in the kitchen. This makes for easy harvesting while cooking.

Harvested fruits ‘can’ be dried and if so best when using a dehydrator with air flow or an oven at a very low temperature (often the warm setting). Other methods include canning and freezing.

Harvested roots can be frozen whole or grated and frozen. Some can be grated and preserved in olive oil, although I do keep these in the refrigerator. Some roots, such as turmeric, ginger and even garlic can be chopped or pulverized in a blender, then dried in your dehydrator. The resulting dried root can then be powdered and stored like you would your everyday spices and herbs. I keep mine in glass lidded jars.

Harvested seed crops can be air dried and kept in jars in a cool dry spot for long lasting food source.

hanging herbs
hanging herbs

Storing Herbals

Easy. Anything you chose to freeze can stay in the freezer. Anything you dehydrated/dried can be stored in glass lidded jars. Just keep them out of direct sunlight and heat.

Once you’ve experienced cooking and using fresh herbals as well as items you’ve grown, harvested and stored yourself you just might not go back to store-bought. Everything is fresher and tastier when fresher.

There’s still time this season to create and plant your own herb garden. The plant nurseries are busy and the parking lot is full but there’s still plenty of options available to you, as well as seed sources such as your local farm, home and garden, as well as seed catalogs.