Sometime after the Fourth of July, herb gardeners are occasionally overcome with strange needs. We scout for flat surfaces around the house. Spare tables, the top of the clothes dryer, nothing is safe. Then we raid our gardens for armfuls of basil, rosemary, and sage. Green mounds spring up everywhere in the house and spill over into the garage as we gather from our herb garden. If you’re having these urges, take heart. Just follow my simple tips and you can clip with confidence.
- Start by collecting your gloves and harvesting equipment. Use sharp clippers so you don’t mangle the stems. Have something to carry the clipped herbs: a bucket, a large basket, or even grocery bags will do the trick.
- Perennial herbs such as oregano and thyme are the simplest to harvest. Cut about one third to one half of the plant’s height any time during the growing season.
- Basil, chervil, and other annual herbs grown for their leaves can also be harvested periodically during the summer. Once they near maturity, many annuals actually benefit from harvesting. Clipping delays them from going to seed. This will encourage your herbs to focus on growing leaves.
- Gathering dill, caraway, and other seed producers requires more careful timing. Watch for the seeds to plump and turn brown. Clip the heads immediately or you’ll lose your harvest to hungry birds or high winds. Place seed heads upside down in a bag and allow the heads to finish ripening for about two weeks.
- For all your herbs, harvest only parts that are in good condition. Leaves, seeds, or flowers that are damaged or wilted won’t improve after they’re clipped.
For most herbs, drying is the best way to preserve them for cooking. Wash your just-clipped branches to remove any dust and dislodge most garden critters. Shake well and lay the stalks in a single layer on an absorbent towel placed on a flat surface. Each day during the drying, fluff the herb stalks to expose new parts to the air and to prevent mold from taking hold. If you live in a humid area, consider using a small fan. Allow them to air-dry for 8-14 days until the leaves are crackly. Store in an airtight container away from light.
That’s all there is to it. Harvest only healthy herbs. Make sharp cuts. Keep the herbs clean. Dry them quickly. Store away from light and moisture. Next time you’re struck with the need to harvest, you’ll know what to do.