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Herb Harvesting

Herb Harvesting



To determine the best harvest time for each herb, you need some experience. A few general rules can lead you in the right direction for most herbs.

LEAVES. Harvest the leaves when they contain the optimum amount of essential oils. These oils give herbs their special flavor or scent. Ideally you should cut herbs soon after the dew has evaporated from the leaves in the morning. Harvesting on a dry day that has been preceded by at least two sunny days.
In most cases, cut stems for harvest when the flower buds are just beginning to open. Mints, however, have the most oil in the leaves when the spikes are in full bloom.

When gathering a large quantity of herbs, use an open weave basket or container that allow good air movement. Don't stuff herbs into plastic bags, which can heat up and cause rapid deterioration of herbs. Never cut more stems than can conveniently dry at one time. You can cut back perennial herbs to about half its height and can cut down an annual to a few inches. You can also remove an annual completely near the end of the season.

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Wash the plants in cool water immediately after gathering, and spread them on towels. Pat them gently with a towel until dry. A dark, well-ventilated room where temperatures run between 70 and 90 degrees F is an excellent room for drying. Air conditioning is helpful because it reduces humidity in the air. You can use frames covered with cheesecloth laid on top for drying. Prepare the frames or screens before you cut the plants.

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For some herbs, you strip the leaves from the stems before drying. Herbs in this group include basil, dill, lemon balm, lovage, mint, sage, lemon verbena and tarragon. Spread these leaves in single layers for quickest drying.
You can dry herbs with smaller leaves leaving the leaves on the stems. These include thyme, oregano and marjoram. Strip the leaves after drying is complete.

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Herb leaves should dry in three to four days under proper conditions. In humid weather, you might need to spread the herbs on a cookie sheet and dry them in an over at about 125 degrees F for a few minutes before placing them into an airtight container.
Some herbs do not dry well. Instead you can freeze such herbs. handle them as you would for drying. then after washing, blanch them in boiling unsalted water for 50 seconds, cool quickly in ice water and blot dry. Then spread them in a single layer on paper or cookie sheets and place them in the freezer.
You can freeze dill, chives and basil without blanching. After the herbs are frozen, place them into airtight plastic containers or bags.
Roots: Angelica and lovage produce usable roots. Dig these roots in the late Autumn or early Spring. Wash them thoroughly after digging. Then slice or split the large roots. Place the pieces in thin layers on screens and turn the slices several times a week. After they are partially dry, finish them in an oven at low heat before placing them in an airtight container for storage. it may take roots six to eight weeks to completely dry. When dry, the root piece should snap when you bend it.


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Seeds: You can grow and process seeds of dill, caraway, fennel and anise at home. When the plants begin to mature and yellow, cut the heads of the plants containing the seeds, leaving a short stem. Place them on a drying tray for five or six days. Then the seeds should fall easily from the heads. Remove the chaff and allow the seeds to continue to dry for another week. Stir them frequently. Store seeds in airtight jars after complete drying.
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Gardenwife
Alton Brown did a whole Good Eats show regarding herbs. He dries them between furnace filters strapped to a box fan! This works for drying jerkey, we saw on another episode of his.

Here's the herb episode:
http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/Season7/Herbs/HerbalPreservation.htm

Ellen
That is an excellent site, Kimberly. I will read the whole thing thoroughly and copy and paste the needed info. into a document that I can keep handy for reference. Thank you for recommending that to us. I raise several herbs myself but have never preserved them. That is one of the many things that I have intended to do but haven't. Anyone else got a list like that? Nah! Just me, huh?

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