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How to Gather, Dry and Store Your Own Herbs and Spices

Updated on February 6, 2013
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Have you grown any herbs in your garden this year? If you grow your own herbs it is important that you gather them correctly. Properly harvesting your herbs will help you get the most flavour and aroma from your plants. You will also get the most health benefits if you harvest them at the right time. And they will last longer if you preserve them correctly. The best time to cut your herbs depends on the herb and what part of the plant you are using.


The Correct Time to Harvest Your Herbs:

With some herbs, you use the leaves, such as with mint, lemon balm or bay leaves. You will want to cut the stems of these plants before the plant flowers. Flowering uses up a lot of the plant's energy, which decreases the strength of the essential oils in the leaves.

If you are using the flowers of the plant, as in with lavender or German chamomile, you will want to cut the flowers off just as they are beginning to open.

If you need the seeds of the herb plant, like with dill or fennel, you will remove them when they are dry and beginning to fall off the plant. Just shake the plant and if the seeds fall off easily, the time is right for harvest.

And if you are using the roots of the plant, like with Echinacea or ginger, dig them up at the end of the growing season. This is usually in the fall. Dig up the roots, take about one-third of them for use, and replant the rest.

When harvesting your herb crops, remember to harvest lightly the first year. The second year and on you can cut up to one-third of the plant. This will ensure that it will grow back the next year. And to protect your plants from damage, use scissors to cut the pieces you need instead of pulling them off.

How to Dry Your Herbs

Drying your herbs is a pretty simple process. First cut the stems you want to use. Keep them long and with the leaves attached for now. Fasten your herbs into little bundles using string or elastic bands. Tie them up with string and hang them upside down to dry.

Choose a dry spot, away from heat and direct sunlight. Check on them every two days. When they are crisp and crumbly, they are ready for storing. Remember to check them often. If they get too dry they will disintegrate.

You can also dry them in the microwave. Spread your herbs in a single layer on a piece of paper towel. Cook on high for one minute. Turn them over and continue cooking for 10-30 seconds until dry. Keep your eyes on your microwave and check often. Herbs burn quickly this way if you're not careful.

You can also dry them in a slow cooker. Fill it 1/3- 1/2 of the way full. Set it on low and do not use the lid. This way takes a few hours. Gently turn the herbs every hour until dry.

And of course you can also use a food dehydrator to dry your herbs - I find this way is the easiest and works the best. You can control the temperature and it reduces the risk of overdrying them.

Tip:

You will get the most flavour from your herbs if you keep the leaves whole, and crumble them just before you use them

How to Store Your Herbs

Now that you have done all that work, it is important store your herbs correctly or you risk losing them.

Place them in a tightly sealed glass jar in a cool, dark place. The next day, check the jar for condensation. If there is any, your herbs are not fully dried out yet. Dry them a little more before storing them or your batch will spoil.

You can enjoy your home dried herbs for up to one year.

Storing home dried herbs

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    • daisyjae profile imageAUTHOR

      daisyjae 

      6 years ago from Canada

      I am glad you found it helpful, GCSandy. Thanks for stopping by.

    • GCSandy profile image

      GCSandy 

      6 years ago from Page, AZ

      I want to grow a few herbs this year. Thanks for the recommendations. Great hub!

    • daisyjae profile imageAUTHOR

      daisyjae 

      6 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for reading my hub and commenting, guys.

    • LivingFood profile image

      LivingFood 

      6 years ago

      Thanks for the information. I would have never thought to use a slow cooker...i'll try it the next time.

    • daisynicolas profile image

      daisynicolas 

      6 years ago from Alaska

      Good pointers on how to undertake this project.

    • profile image

      Arlene V. Poma 

      6 years ago

      What a wonderful how-to. I love lavender, and I always bypassed drying it and storing it. Bookmarked, voted up, and everything else.

    • daisyjae profile imageAUTHOR

      daisyjae 

      6 years ago from Canada

      You are welcome, RTalloni.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 

      6 years ago from the short journey

      Maybe this will be the year I can go all out with herb gardening. Thanks for this good overview of gathering and drying herbs and spices!

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