When you are close to herbs and get to know them, you see their beauty. To know when and how to harvest them, you need to understand their natural life cycle and reproductive habits. This benefits everyone. Herbs provide something that appeals to each of the five senses and that can improve the mind, body, and spirit. You can begin harvesting when there is enough foliage on the plant to tolerate being cut. However, except for annual herbs at the end of their growing season, don’t cut back a plant completely when harvesting it.
Rules for herbal harvesting
Follow these tips for the most bountiful harvest.
- Most herbs put out new growth at the tips of their branches and this is where they should be pinched to encourage a bushier shape. Use herbs fresh, or dry for later use. Some herbs, such as chives, parsley, or sorrel, grow from the base of the plant, so snip the older leaves growing outside first. Be careful not to over-harvest the plant.
- If your herbs are outdoors, harvest them in the morning after any dew has dried and before the sun gets too hot. To harvest properly, cut stems. Do not pull leaves from the plant.
- Pick healthy growth and discard 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 harvesting herbs grown for their flavorful leaves, harvest the leaves just before the plant flowers.
- Harvest flowers for drying before they’re fully opened.
- Harvest seeds when they’re fully ripened. For this, you can cut the whole plant or just the seed stalk/head.
There are several ways you can preserve and enjoy your herbal harvest. Some of my favorites are drying, freezing, and making tinctures.
Techniques for air-drying herbs
- Tie large leafy-stemmed herbs with rubber bands into loose bundles and hang them in a room or closet with good cross-air circulation. Herb bundles tend to shrink and loosen as they dry—check them and tighten each bundle as needed. Depending on the herb, the drying time ranges from 2 days to several weeks for the herbs to completely dry. They should feel crisp when fully dry.
- Strip the fresh leaves or flowers from the plant stems and spread them in a thin layer on screens. You can use a house window screen lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Place screens in a well-ventilated area and let the herbs dry. Stir the herbs and spread them out again several times a day to speed drying times.
- Hang plants harvested for seeds upside-down to dry with the flower/seed heads enclosed in paper bags to catch dropping seeds.
- Store completely dried herbs in clean glass jars away from heat and light to preserve their flavors and fragrances. Be sure to check for moisture before putting freshly dried herbs into jars.
Techniques for freezing fresh herbs
– drying them – freezing them in ice cube trays – vacuum sealing them The three main ways to preserve herbs are drying them, freezing them in ice cube trays, and vacuum sealing them.
- Carefully chop fresh-cut herbs with a kitchen knife or kitchen shears. Evenly spread the herbs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place it in the freezer for several hours. Pack the frozen herbs in small containers, label, and date the containers, and keep them frozen for 6 to 8 months.
- Freezing herbs in stock or water works well for preserving herbs for use in stews and dishes with high water content. Place finely chopped fresh herbs in water or broth in the desired concentration and freeze in ice-cube trays. Remove the frozen cubes from trays and place them in zip-top bags. Keep frozen until needed. You can freeze whole edible flowers by placing them in ice-cube trays. Fill an ice-cube tray half full of water, then place the edible flowers facedown in the water and finish filling the tray with water. Freeze until firm. Transfer to zip-top bags. Keep frozen until needed.
- To freeze herbs in oil, blend 2 cups (weight varies) of finely chopped fresh herbs into 1/2 cup (120 ml) of good-quality oil. The oil acts as a carrier for the herbs, so use just enough oil to bind the mixture. Pack the herb oil into small airtight containers, label and date your containers, and freeze for up to 1 year. Chip or scrape off what is needed for each dish. Herbs in oil must be kept frozen until use.
Thymely tips and sage advice for using herbs
Use herbs to enhance the flavor of your food, but be careful not to add too much. A general rule is to use 1/2 teaspoon of dried herbs per 4 servings, or 4 times as much of a fresh green herb. The right amount of herb for your family may vary from this rule. Too little is better than too much; start with a “pinch” of the herb and add more after letting the herb’s flavor mingle and mix with the other ingredients.
Fresh herbs have a great flavor and can be used to season food, mix with salad greens, or make tea. You can use the soft green stems, but get rid of the woody ones. If you keep them refrigerated in a plastic bag with a damp towel, they should last 3 to 4 days.
If you want the flavor of an herb to be more pronounced, let it sit in the dish for longer. The heat will also cause the flavor to come out more quickly. You can add herbs to cold dishes, vegetables, cocktails, butter, or cheese spreads the night before serving. Be adventurous with your herbs and try new combinations.
6 Ways to Preserve Your Herbs
We’re moving into unfamiliar territory by exploring different ways of preserving herbs. You can keep your homegrown herbs fresh all year by using methods like oils, salts, and vinegar.
You can make infused oils with almost any herb, from parsley to lavender to thyme. If you want to add more flavor to your sautéed vegetables, salad dressing, or pizza, one way to do it is by using herb-infused oil. You can make infused oils with a variety of herbs, such as parsley, lavender, and thyme.
You should fill the jar with plants halfway for a strong flavor. You can use olive oil, avocado oil, or grapeseed oil. Make sure to wash and dry the herbs before adding them to the oil to prevent bacteria.
After you’ve gathered your herbs, you’ll need to put them in a clean container and cover them with oil. It’s important to use enough oil to entirely cover the herbs, and to stir the mixture to release any air bubbles. Once the herbs are covered in oil, put a lid on the container and wait two to three weeks for the oil to absorb the herb’s properties.
An option that is often forgotten about is infused salt. This is an easy way to elevate your meals while simultaneously preserving large amounts of fresh basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, and so forth.
Use around six cups of fresh herbs for every one cup of salt. The best options for salt are sea salt or kosher salt, but canning and pickling salt will also work. Be sure to wash and dry the herbs before adding them to the mix, and remove any discolored leaves or thick stems.
Next, you’re going to want to chop your herbs coarsely before adding them to your salt of choice. You can also use a mortar and pestle, but be careful not to crush the herbs into a paste.
Mix your herbs and salt in layers until the container is full, then store in the fridge. Don’t worry if you have leftover herbs; they’ll shrink overnight. Keep adding fresh herbs until the container is full, then store in the fridge again.
This text is telling the reader that it will take roughly one to two weeks for the flavors of the herb-infused salts to blend together, but the salts should remain fresh and edible for up to six months.
To make an herb paste, start by separating the leaves from the stems of your herbs. Then, place them in a food processor and pulse until they are chopped finely. If you don’t have a food processor, you can use a knife and cutting board to achieve the same result.
Gradually add olive oil to the food processor until the mixture becomes thick and pasty, as if you were making pesto from scratch. If you are using a knife and cutting board, add the finely chopped herbs to a bowl and stir in olive oil as needed.
Paste can last up to two weeks in the fridge, or be frozen for longer-term storage. Wrap paste in parchment paper or store in airtight containers or Ziploc bags before freezing.
Herb Ice Cubes
Save your fresh mint and basil for the next time you want to add a garden fresh option for cocktail hour. Freezing your herbs in ice cubes can also provide an easily rationed portion for recipes months into the future. Please note that even if they are limp when defrosted, the herbs’ flavor won’t be compromise
First, rinse your herbs and pat them dry. It depends on whether you want to use the herbs in a drink or in a recipe. If you want to use them in a cocktail, you should use larger clippings. If you want to use them for flavor in a recipe, you should use coarsely chopped.
To make herb ice cubes, start by clipping or chopping the herbs. Then, add them to an ice tray or mold and pour water over them so that each cube is filled about one-third to the top. Freeze for an hour, then remove from the freezer and fill the rest of the mold with water. Return to the freezer and let the mixture freeze completely.
Herb-Infused Vinegar Blends
There are many types of vinegar you can use to preserve your herbs, such as red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or rice vinegar. Balsamic vinegar should be avoided as its flavor will be too strong. If you want something less acidic that will go well with your herbs, try rice vinegar or white wine vinegar.
Unlike other preservation methods, you don’t need to chop up your herbs when using this method. You can use them on their stalks or stems, but make sure you have sanitized your herbs and your canning jars before you start the process. We recommend using a one-to-two ratio of herbs to vinegar.
Before adding your herbs to the vinegar, heat the vinegar to a temperature below boiling (190-195 degrees Fahrenheit). Then pour the vinegar over the herbs, leaving about a quarter inch from the top of the jar.
Store your herb-infused vinegar at room temperature for about three to four weeks to allow the flavors to develop. Removing most of the herbs at this point, but leaving a few springs in the jar makes for better aesthetics. You can strain out the herbs and pour your vinegar into clean bottles.
Making a basic herb butter
Herb butter is a type of butter that can include any single herb or a combination of several.
To make herb butter, mix 2-3 tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs with 1 cup of unsalted butter. You can add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to make the butter more spreadable. To add flavor, you can also add a pinch of salt or a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. The mixture can be packed into a small container or rolled into a log and refrigerated for up to 3 weeks, or frozen for up to 3 months.