Growing herbs or buying them fresh is a healthful and tasty way to use these plants. But harvesting and storing them at the correct times and using the best methods is important for success.
Here are four tips for harvesting and storing fresh herbs.
1. Timing Is Everything
When it comes to harvesting herbs, timing is important. With some herbs, like lemon balm, you can get several harvests out of them. Other herbs, like basil, like to be cut back frequently all summer. Here are some general rules for timing:
- Herbs that grow quickly, like mints, can be harvested in early summer, mid-summer, and again in early fall.
- Slower-growing herbs may be harvested in mid-summer. They need time to recover and put out new leaves before frost, so if you harvest them too late in the year they may be killed by the frost (even if they are perennial).
- Harvest in the mid to late morning, right after the dew has dried on the leaves.
- If herbs are woody or turning bronze or yellow, you may get bitter or unpleasant flavors.
- Flowering herbs can be harvested right after the first bloom to give the foliage a chance to grow back.
- For cooking with fresh herbs, you can snip off what you need as you are preparing your meal – any time of year.
2. Not too Close
When you cut herbs during the growing season, don’t cut them down to the ground. Leave some of the stem and at least a few leaves so the plant can regrow.
3. Storing Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs need moisture, cool temperatures, and air circulation to stay fresh for a few days after being cut. One of the most effective methods is to cut the bottom of the stems and set the herbs upright in a plastic tub or glass jar. Pour in a quarter inch or so of water. Then loosely cover the top of the herbs with a plastic bag and refrigerate.
4. Long-Term Storage
You can freeze or dry herbs for long-term storage. Some dry better than others. Basil and chives, for instance, are better frozen; when dried they tend to lose flavor. But sage and mint are perfect for drying. To freeze, lay herbs on a sheet of wax paper that’s approximately twice as long as a zip-top plastic bag. Lay the herbs on half the wax paper, and then fold the other half over the herbs. Slip the package into the plastic bag, suck out the air, seal, and freeze.
To dry herbs, hang them by the stems upside-down for several days in a warm, dry area. Attics are great for this. After a few days, lay out sheets of newspaper and strip the crisp dried leaves from the stems. Store the leaves in jars or zip-top bags.
Herbs are wonderful medicinal and culinary additions to your diet and home healthcare arsenal. These tips should help you get the most out of them.