If you have an herb garden, you’re going to want to learn to properly harvest herbs. You’ll also want to learn to store them for future use. Here are some tips and tricks.
Herbs in School and for Christmas
Every Friday in our homeschool is herb day, and this week we studied Lavender. Leon Day is coming up on June 25th (Leon is backwards Noel), when Christmas is exactly six months away. If you like to hand make Christmas gifts, it’s a good idea to get a head start with at least the planning phase. When I’m on the ball, we use Leon Day for that very purpose. To read about Leon Day, click here.
So, with clippers in hand, the kids and I went out to study and harvest lavender with great plans for what we’ll do with it. Visions of bath salts, sleep pillows and rice bags dancing in our heads.
To learn how to grow herbs wherever you are, including in pots, be sure to check out our e-book, Herbs in the Bathtub:
How to Harvest Herbs
Best Time of Day to Harvest Herbs
The best time to harvest herbs (or any kind of plant) is in the morning or the evening. At those time the heat of the mid-day sun isn’t stressing them out. They’re less likely to wilt or have sun damage.
How Much to Harvest
You never want to take more than one third of any plant from which you’re harvesting, so don’t get carried away. Most herbs are cut and come again. Which means that harvesting all season will mean continued bounty up until frost because the plant will produce more to harvest.
Use Sharp Tools to Harvest Herbs
When you harvest herbs, you want your cuts to be clean and precise. Make sure your blades and clippers are sharp. You can remove any spent parts of the plants as you go, too. Older leaves, bug eaten remnants, damaged limbs can all be pruned off as you harvest herbs.
We had a terrible wind blast through here last week – a seventy mile an hour micro burst that took down trees! Needless to say, a few of my taller things like the bee balm are a little the worse for wear and need a cleaning up in order to heal. Also, several herbs, like my Feverfew, will heavily reseed themselves if I don’t stay on top of removing their flowering stems throughout the season.
We rummaged through all of our Lavender plants; it’s one of my favorites so we have several. Then, since we were out there and the baby was still napping, we also brought in two kinds of Sage, Plantain, Feverfew, Artemisia, Oregano, Comfrey and Marjoram.
Air drying herbs is the easiest way to preserve your herb harvest. It doesn’t require any special equipment, for one thing.
- After a good wash, shake out your herbs gently to remove extra water. Allow them to air dry for a few hours before hanging them to air dry. My garden is watered with secondary river water so I’m careful to wash everything I bring in. Plus, our summers are so dusty!
- To gather the harvested herbs for drying, line up the stems of like plants so that nothing gets dropped.
- Remove one to three inches of leaf matter from the ends of the stems. Toss herbal bits into your chicken or compost bucket so as not to waste them.
- In order to prevent mold as the herbs dry, don’t bundle too many herbs together at once.
- Use string or rubber bands to bind the herbs together tightly. Remember that the plant material will shrink as it dries.
- Find a warm, relatively dust-free place to hang the herbs upside down. The main thing to remember is you need a place with good air circulation where the herbs won’t be messed with while they dry.
- Air dry for a week or more, depending on the herb.
My husband attached short bar with hooks that we got from Ikea to the rafters of our loft. I use it for drying herbs all season long and it works well. By having it suspended to the ceiling, the herbs stay out of the way of everyone, including the cat and the baby. I need to invest in another set up like this one since I’m always using up all the space on it and needing more.
Dry Herbs in a Dehydrator
You can also use a dehydrator set on a lower setting like 115-130 degrees. Simply wash and gently shake your herbs. Clip of the stems and scatter leaves and flowers on your dehydrator racks. Don’t let any herb matter sit on top of each other. Depending on the herb, dehydration can take a few hours to overnight.
I advise against drying sage in the dehydrator because it will make it taste really dusty. I’m not sure why that is, but sage can be temperamental once it’s dried. Don’t using it in canning recipes, either, because it will make your recipe bitter.
Harvest Herbs for Use
We use herbs all year round for various reasons. The kitchen herbs are, obviously, used in the kitchen.
The Sage and Oregano are both used by us in the kitchen and in winter time tea for sore throats and immune boosting. This is my first year with Marjoram and it’s a decent little addition to sauces and soups. The Artemisia is a great wormer for people and animals, while the Plantain and Comfrey are indispensable in salves for skin ailments. Feverfew is, you guessed it, good for fevers as it’s very calming, like most herbs, Feverfew is good for a myriad of things, actually.
If you really want to learn more about herbs, I can recommend the online herbal courses at The Herbal Academy. Click below to learn more:
My herb garden has been sadly neglected this year with a newborn baby. We’re picking up the remnants of our homeschool year after that long pregnancy but, unlike the demanding veggie beds, my herb garden is happily out there doing it’s own thing. It functions without reference to whether I’m there or not. That’s why I love herbs.
My herbs are, for me, a calm oasis in a sea of things I’m not getting to this year…