How to Gather, Dry and Store Your Own Herbs and Spices
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.
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
How to grow your own herbs:
- How to Grow Herbs in Containers and Pots
Learn how to grow your own herbs with this hub. Features easy to follow tips on the easiest herbs to grow yourself.