It is early January and here you sit thinking about the upcoming spring planting season. It comes to you that this is the year that you are going to put in an herb garden. As you go through the catalogs you are thrilled by all the possibilities and start sending in your orders. The day arrives when your seeds and plants start to arrive and it dawns on you that as usual you have ordered way to much and now what are you going to do with all these herbs.
Not to panic first off harvest is still many weeks away, and by the time you are ready to harvest you will have read this article and be prepared with different methods of preserving your herbs. Different herbs are harvested at different times some herbs are harvested before they flower sage, rosemary, thyme,Ã‚ oregano and bee balm to name a few. Other herbs are harvested while in flower anise hyssop, butterfly weed, lavender, and dandelion. Some are harvested for their roots marshmallow, purple cone flower, and dandelion while others are harvested for their berries elderberry, chaste berry and hawthorn. So it depends what you are harvesting as to when peak harvest is. The one thing you want to be sure of is that you harvest early in the morning as soon as the dew has dried and that you quickly get your herbs to a shaded cool area so the sun does not wilt them or draw out their essential oils.
Herbs can be gathered in bunches and tied with twine then hung upside down in a dark warm spot with good air circulation and left to dry. Another method is to dry them in your refrigerator in small paper bags. Place small bunches of herbs in bags that you have label and leave the tops open. This method takes longer but in the cool environment the herbs will retain their oils and they will dry completely in the bags. When you need some of the herb you can use it right from the bag.
Other methods you can use is placing herbs in a dehydrator in the oven with the pilot light on, placing on screens in a cool area out of direct sun or using an electric dehydrator. Check your herbs every 1 to 2 days when dry the leaves should crumble when you rub them between you fingers. If they are not crisp they still have some moisture in them. Properly dried herbs will retain the leaf color of berry color if they turn brown then they are of no use as they have been damaged.
Store herbs in jars with tight fitting lids in a cool dark place away from sunlight for up to 2 years. Do not crumble or crush leaves until they are ready to be used in order to preserve natural oils. Rember the best result will come from fresh herbs picked at the peak of harvest.