Harvesting guidelines include time of day for peak flavor or oil content, and range in growing cycles. Aim to harvest in the morning before the sun gets too hot. Always harvest less than a third of the plant to encourage new growth. Continue to harvest during the growing season. Pruning or pinching off leaves from the stem can encourage split-off branches to grow. As a result, the plant grows bushy and you increase your harvests.
When To Harvest:
- Herbs grown for foliage - before the plant blooms, which turns the leaves bitter
- Herbs grown for their flowers - just after the first buds appear it has a higher concentration of oil, this decreases as it moves to a full bloom
- Herbs grown for their seeds: wait until they fully dry and mature on the plant, ready when color changes from green to brown or black.
Dry your homegrown harvests quickly. This will maximize the concentrations of oils, flavors, nutrients and medicinal properties. Drying herbs is a great way to extend consuming the benefits of your plant’s offerings throughout the year. There are a variety of techniques to dry herbs. However, many prefer the ease of air drying and there are a couple ways to do so:
Hang & Air Dry
To air dry a bundle, gather a small bunch of 10-15 stems. Gently shake the bunch to free any hitchhiking insects. Wrap the stems with twine, a rubber band or other tie to secure them together snuggly (stems shrink as they dry). Hang the bunch upside down from a drying rack, a rung of a ladder, a nail or a hanger.
Air Dry With A Screen (DIY Herb Drying Screen)
You may also want to try a screen tray for drying herbs, a method especially helpful for short stemmed herbs or single leaves. Spread the herbs or flowers out on the screen with air circulating above and below.
Choose a dry, warm, dust-free, well-ventilated location out of the sunlight. Depending on the plant and its moisture content, drying completely may take up to three weeks. Depending on the area and humidity level of your environment, it may be difficult to air dry naturally. In this scenario or if you want a quicker dry time, you can try:
Using a Food Dehydrator
Spread the herbs in a single layer on the trays. On a low heat setting, to preserve the quality of your harvest, allow the dehydrator to circulate its airflow through the screens. Depending on moisture levels, it may take 1-4 hours to dry. Check occasionally to monitor and prevent over drying.
Extra Dry Time For Seeds
Even after letting seeds mature completely on the plant, and they turn their dark brown or black color, some may need additional drying. You can place them in a brown paper bag, poke some holes at the top and let them dry for a couple weeks. Give the bag a good shake to release the seeds from their seed hulls. Separate the seeds and leave them to dry in a shallow container before storing.
After the air dry methods are complete, and harvests are fully dry, strip the crispy leaves off the stems to store. It is very important that the herbs be completely dry before storing. Storing herbs is as important as drying herbs. Immediately after drying, transfer to containers to prevent them from reabsorbing moisture. Glass jars with air tight fitting lids provide the best storage containers.
To preserve the plant's potency, store herbs loosely and crumble them before use. The concentration in dried herbs is stronger than in fresh herbs. About one-third dried herb is a substitute for a recipe’s fresh quantity. Store your air tight, herb filled containers in a cool, dry, dark place in a temperature stable location. Label your containers with the herb name and the date. Properly stored dried herbs can stay good for 6 - 12 months.
Enjoy the process and reap the cost and health benefits of drying and storing herbs from your windowsill garden or backyard herb beds. May your plants flourish and harvests provide for you and yours this growing season!
This blog was written by Meg Ramirez, please click here to learn more about the author.