Nothing has been more satisfying than growing and using fresh herbs. The flavor is something I never experienced before I started using them. I’ve had fun being introduced to herbs I never used before like Sage, which is now my favorite! I love coming up with ideas on how to incorporate them into dishes and which herbs go well together. Herbs really are easy to grow too, and I’ve had good success growing them in containers.
Over the past few years I’ve tried a few things and have settled into a routine of harvesting that seems to work fairly well. I don’t have a particular time frame, instead I make sure conditions are right and watch for the herbs to be ready.
- Conditions Make a Huge Difference
- Harvest after herbs have had a few days regular watering or raining so they are not too dry
- Make sure they are harvested without any moisture on the leaves! So after dew has evaporated
- Early morning after dew has evaporated but before heat of afternoon drys them out is best. That way they retain oils but aren’t wet.
- When the Herb is Ready
- Leaves are showing good color. Remove any yellowed leaves
- Leaves are medium in size. Small-medium leaves have higher concentration of oils than larger leaves.
- There is enough on the stem to do a cutting and there are new leaves starting to bud.
- How to Harvest
- Either pick leaves off at their base or cut stems above a leaf pair to allow for regrowth
- Make sure to keep some leaves on the plant
- Brush off dirt but don’t rinse with water, you want them to stay dry
Drying Herbs I prefer to dry most of my herbs except Rosemary and Feverfew which I cut and use fresh when I need it. I find that these dried, yet, freshly-grown herbs have lots of flavor and are easy to keep and use!
- Preparing for Drying
- Remove leaves from stems
- Place spread out in a closed paper bag
- Mark date and type of herb
- Place or hang bag in a dry and dark location
- Dry for 1-2 months, store in glass containers with a lid after drying
Tips and Experience I used to dry the entire stem upside-down and remove leaves afterward. However I have since started to remove and dry the leaves themselves. It saves time and is less hassle. Some herbs I leave on the stem such as Thyme, since it is difficult to remove the leaves until they are dry. I also found no need to keep any part of the paper bag open, and now I fully enclose my herbs.
The key when drying is to keep the herbs spread out so as not to become moist and moldy. Then they dry slowly but completely in the dark environment over time, retaining all those nice oils! I know leaves in a paper bag doesn’t sound very fancy but it works very well. Be careful about drying them in your kitchen-My kitchen gets far too moist from cooking and the water heater, so I dry my herbs in our hallway closet 😉
So far growing in containers has been enough herb growth for me to harvest them every couple months. They stay around the same size this way and I still get enough to use. Having them in containers allows me to have them up on a table, making harvesting no problem at all! It’s also easy to keep everything in check such as mints without them taking over the yard. Herbs seem to do well with regular pruning, so in keeping them small, I tend to actively prune the whole plant. I harvest & bag them all at once and rotate out the ones that have dried into glass containers.
I truly enjoy working with herbs. They add so much to cooking, they are worth it even if you don’t do any other gardening!