fall, herb gardeners are overcome with the need to
harvest and dry our herbs. We scout for flat surfaces
around the house. Spare tables, the top of the clothes
dryer, nothing is safe. Clippers in hand, we raid our
gardens for armfuls of basil, rosemary and sage. Green
mounds spring up in the house and may even spill over
into the garage.
you are an herb gardener, you know that harvesting is
the fragrant payoff for all that weeding and watering.
If this is your first year growing herbs, you may feel a
little uncertain about how to do it.
fear: All you have to do is adopt my five-step program
and youíll be on your way to a bounty of flavor and
fragrance from the basil, thyme and other herbs in your
by gathering your harvesting equipment. Use sharp garden
clippers so you donít mangle the stems. Clean cuts
mean less chance for disease to get a foothold on the
plant. Have something to carry the clipped herbs: A
bucket, a large basket or paper grocery bags will do the
sturdy garden gloves. I recommend the ones with stretch
knit fabric and rubberized palms. They combine safety
out to the garden and start snipping stems. This is best
done during the cooler hours of the day. Herbs harvested
midday are less likely to be at peak flavor.
herbs such as oregano and thyme are the simplest to
harvest. Cut about one-third to one-half of the plantís
height anytime during the growing season. Removing too
much can stress the plant. Clip the stem just above a
leaf node to encourage future growth.
chervil and other annual herbs grown for their leaves
also can be harvested periodically during the garden
year. In fact, regular harvesting throughout the year
will encourage fresh growth and give you a larger total
amount of the herb. As with perennials, only clip about
a third to a half of the leaves on the herb.
dill, fennel, caraway and other seed-producers requires
more careful timing. Watch for the seeds to plump and
turn brown. Clip the heads immediately or youíll lose
your harvest to hungry birds or high winds.
edible herb flowers such as lavender, borage and pot
marigold when the flowers have just opened. The heads
will be firm and at maximum flavor.
all your herbs, harvest only parts that are in good
condition. Leaves, seeds or flowers that are damaged or
wilted wonít improve after theyíre clipped. Avoid
harvesting from plants that are stressed or struggling
to stay alive. Because green leaves are the
energy-producing part of the plant, removing too many
can be harmful.
Bring herbs indoors.
the cuttings indoors for the next step. Leafy herbs need
a quick bath to remove any dust and dislodge most garden
insects. Fill the sink or a dishpan with water. Dip the
herbs in the water, and swish them around a bit. Then
lift them out of the water (leaving the debris behind)
and shake slightly to allow excess water to drain off.
Place on a cotton towel and pat dry.
fourth step to preserving is the drying. Lay large
stalks in a single layer on an absorbent towel or screen
placed on a flat surface. For small-leaved,
short-stemmed herbs such as thyme and winter savory,
place the stems loosely in a bowl.
them to air-dry for six to eight days ó more for
thick-leaved herbs such as sage and rosemary. When the
leaves are crackly dry, remove them from the stems.
drying herbs, itís important to prevent mold. Each day
during the drying, fluff or stir the herb stalks to
expose new parts to the air. If you live in a humid area
or are drying a large quantity, consider using a small
fan to aid air circulation.
gardeners prefer to hasten the drying process with the
microwave oven. The microwave will work, provided you
dry a handful at a time in short bursts ó no more than
a minute at a time.
quantities will tend to cook like spinach, leaving you
with a fragrant microwave and a mushy mess.
donít recommend using a conventional oven to dry
herbs. Many ovens have a minimum setting of 200 F. The
essential oils that provide flavor and fragrance in
herbs are volatile at temperatures of 150 F and above.
Using your oven will drive out those essential oils and
give you less flavorful dried herbs.
store dried herbs, remove leaves, seeds and flowers from
the stems once they are crackly dry. Place them whole
(not crushed or ground) in airtight, wide-mouth jars
with screw or snap tops. Keeping them whole while stored
will maximize the preserved flavor. Label with the
contents and date of harvest and store in a cool, dark
all there is to it.
can count the rules of herb harvesting on one hand: Use
sharp clippers and sturdy gloves. Harvest stems, seeds
and flowers from healthy plants. Give them a quick bath.
Dry them quickly. Store dried herbs away from light and
these hints, you can clip with confidence. Next time youíre
struck with the need to harvest, youíll know just what