Harvest and Preserve Fresh Garden Herbs
This growing season, you gave your herb garden much of your time and loving attention. You have delighted in their curb appeal and bountiful flavor throughout these warm summer months. You have walked away with dirty fingernails, healthy exercise, aching backs! But your work is not quite finished yet. It’s harvest and preservation time!
So let’s begin harvesting! Late summer, before the weather cools, is the best time to harvest your herbs. Remember that even a light fall frost can damage tender herbs, so you’ll want to pick them before any chance of a frost. Here are some helpful pointers:
- Cut your herbs by mid-morning, after the morning dew has dried from the leaves but before the plants are wilting in the hot sun.
- Choose and cut healthy branches from your herb plant.
- Remove any disease, yellow, or dry leaves. Shake gently to remove any unseen insects and loose soil. If necessary, rinse with lukewarm water and gently pat dry with paper towels. Allow the herbs to air dry COMPLETELY. Wet herbs will mold and rot.
There are two ways to preserve herbs; Air Drying and Freezing.
Air drying herbs is easy and inexpensive. This slow-drying process preserves the herbs of their flavorful oils. Air drying herbs works best with those herbs that do not have a high moisture content such as thyme, lavender, tarragon, lemon balm, rosemary, dill, bay leaf, oregano, and marjoram.
In order to retain the best flavor of these low moisture types of herbs, you’ll need to allow them to dry naturally or use a food dehydrator. (A microwave or oven are NOT good options because you inadvertently cook the herbs to a degree, diminishing the oil content and flavor).
Here is how to air dry your herbs:
- Remove the lower leaves along the bottom inch or so of the branch.
- Bundle for branches together and tie them in a bunch. Simply hang your herbs in a dry, warm area with plenty of air circulation until they are completely dry about 2 to 4 weeks.
- Once your herbs are completely dried, they can be stored in labeled zip lock bags or any airtight containers.
- Your herbs will retain more flavor if you store the leaves whole and crush them when you are ready to use them.
- Be sure to discard any dried herbs that show the slightest sign of mold.
- Store your labeled containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Total darkness is best.
Herbs with a high water content or delicate herbs like basil, chives, barrage, lemon balm, sage, mint, cilantro, parsley, and tarragon seem to mold before they ever dry. Fresh freezing is a better option for these herbs. (The herbs will become limp in the process, but their flavor will remain intact) Frozen herbs will keep their pungent flavor for several months, unlike dried herbs, which get more concentrated when drying. Frozen herbs are used in the same proportion as fresh herbs.
Here is how to freeze your herbs:
- Once harvested, choose the freshest, healthiest LEAVES
- On a cookie sheet spread the individual cleaned and thoroughly dried leaves flat without touching each other
- Cover with saran wrap and place the tray into the freezer
- When frozen solid, place in airtight containers or baggies. Label and return to the freezer for winter storage.
- Instead of freezing on a cookie tray, stuff 2 to 3 individual whole herb leaves or a spoonful of chopped herbs in empty ice cube trays.
- Fill the tray halfway with water. Push all the leaves down into the water as best you can. Place the half- filled tray in the freezer
- Once the half -filled cubes are almost frozen, finish filling the tray with water to the top. Place back into the freezer to freeze solid
- Once the Herb Cubes have completely frozen, remove them and store them in the freezer in airtight containers or labeled zip lock bags.
Dried herbs are much more concentrated than fresh herbs. With dried herbs, start by using only a 1/4 as much as you would use with fresh herbs. You can always add more if needed. Basically, use about one teaspoon of crushed dry leaves in place of 1 tablespoon of fresh. And again, Frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh herbs.
Just imagine how delicious your herbs will taste in the coming winter months! Spring is just around the corner! Well maybe not that close, but it’ll be spring before you know it. Make sure you get all your year end knick-knacks from Koopman Lumber before you miss your timing window! We have everything the aspiring home gardener, or the tenured garden vet needs to have a great garden year after year. Visit us online today at Koopmanplants.com!