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The Kitchen Witch - Harvesting Herbs


Lammas is time to harvest and preserve the herbs I’ve been growing since early spring. Keep in mind that Lammas is the first of three harvests and many if not all your herbs still have a way to go, be they annuals or perennials. So here are some tips and suggestions to help you with the process.

When to harvest:

The best time to harvest is before your herbs have gone to flower – but if you missed this not to worry. Just remove the flowers whenever you see them popping up. This is a good practice throughout the growing season. Your herbs will be stronger and tastier if the energy goes back into the plant and not the flower. Remember to thank your plants and ask permission to cut them and don’t take more than one third of the entire plant at each harvest. The best time to cut the plants is mid morning, when the dew has already evaporated but wilting from the mid-day and afternoon sun has yet to start. If you like to garden by the Moon, as I do, the best time to harvest just about anything is during the waning Moon …. and on August 1st we will be well into a waning Moon as our Full Moon is July 26th. Please remember not to harvest your perennials too late in the season …. They need time to recover before the first frost. Annuals on the other hand, you will want to do a final harvest before the first frost at which time you will harvest the entire plant. If you are planning on using your herbs fresh, just run them through some cold water, shake off excess water, wrap in paper towels and store them in the fridge. If you plan on using the herbs in a day or two, just put them in the fridge as is and wash them off just before you plan on using them. They will last longer this way. Don’t wrap them in plastic or use baggies, they will wilt and go bad quickly. They need the air to circulate around them to keep them as fresh as possible for as long as possible.


Drying herbs:

There are several ways to dry herbs depending on the type of herb. If you are drying herbs with large leaves such as basil, lovage, sage and parsley it is best to tie together bunches of them with cotton twine. It is very important that they dry in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and where there is a good amount of air circulating, like a basement or barn. Actually, I like to hang mine in the kitchen because I can see them and grab some when I need them for cooking. If you have a space where you can string up something like a clothesline, you can just tie your bundles of herbs to the clothes line. They look nice and can be easily monitored. If you are drying culinary herbs outside or if your basement is very dusty, you may want to consider covering them with paper bags. Dusty herbs don’t taste very good!! Depending on the herb and its water content and how much air you have circulating, your herbs should dry in 2-4 weeks. If you are drying herbs with seed heads such as dill, coriander, and fennel, it is best to put the herbs in a paper sack and tie the stems together at the top of the sack. You can shake them periodically to loosen the seeds. They should dry in about 3 weeks. Another way to dry herbs is by using screens. I personally don’t do this as it takes up a lot of room. But if space is not an issue and you have access to screens, they really do dry faster this way. Just remove the leaves from the stems, and lay them out on the screens. The screens should be propped up so air can easily circulate above and below the leaves, but be sure to keep them out of the way of breezes or you will lose your herbs. They should be dry in a just a few days.


Other options for preserving your herbs:

You may want to consider freezing your herbs, especially if space is an issue. It’s really easy. Just take a bunch of clean leaves, like basil, mint, lovage, oregano – anything with a larger leaf. Put the leaves in a food processer with little bit of water and process. Pour into ice cube trays and freeze. Once frozen, you can store them in freezer bags. Be sure to label them, once processed they all look very similar and pineapple mint in your spaghetti sauce may not work too well! When you want to add a little “pop” to your favorite recipe, just throw in an ice cube – a standard size ice cube is about 1 tablespoon of pureed herb.

Other than culinary herbs you may want to consider preserving medicinal herbs as well. This recipe will work with any medicinal herb used topically. I love comfrey. It’s big and beautiful and works wonders on burns, scrapes, cuts and generally all boo-boos. You can make a poultice and freeze them to use in the winter. Or you can make a salve. Harvest a bunch of comfrey leaves, shake them well to get off any bugs or other stray materials. I use equal parts of compressed leaves to olive oil. So, 2 cups of compressed comfrey leaves to 2 cups of olive oil (this makes a lot of salve, way more than you’ll use in a life time, so if you don’t want to give it away as gifts or sell it, start small). Put the olive oil and leaves in a pot and let it cook over medium heat (don’t boil) for about an hour. Then, let it stand for 24 hours. Strain the comfrey leaves out of the mixture. At this point, for fun and to add a little interest you can throw in some lavender flowers and calendula flowers, and finally add a half cup of bees wax*. The bees wax is very important because it holds it all together and makes it easy to apply. Heat on low, stirring, just long enough for the wax to melt. Once the wax is melted pour into tins or glass jars. I keep mine in the fridge. *You can buy a bag of bees wax pellets at most craft stores.


Storing your herbs:

Once everything is completely dry, it’s time to store them away for future use. Store your leaves whole and crumble them up right before you use them. They will keep their flavor longer this way. Store in glass jars, preferable dark glass with tight lids. Check them periodically for mold. If your herbs are not completely dry they will mold and you will have to throw them out, so err on the side to too dry! Be sure to label everything. Store your jars in a dark place to keep them fresh.

I know some people like to dry their herbs in the oven or even the micro wave (yikes) and I have tried this too, but I believe they last longer and keep their flavor longer if done the old fashioned way. After all your hard work throughout the spring and the summer, with a little bit of effort your garden can continue to please you throughout the winter as well.

Enjoy and Happy Lammas!

July 2010 © Lyric MoonShadow

Lyric lives on the island of Sint. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles, and is a Shamanic Eclectic Wiccan. 


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