In fall, herb gardeners like to harvest and dry our herbs. If this is your first year growing herbs, you may feel uncertain about how to do it. Never fear: All you have to do is adopt this five-step program.
1. Gather equipment.
Use sharp garden clippers so you don’t mangle the stems. Get a bucket or basket to carry the clipped herbs. Wear sturdy garden gloves.
2. Start snipping.
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This is best done during the cooler hours of the day. Herbs harvested midday are less likely to be at peak flavor.
Perennial herbs such as oregano and thyme are the simplest to harvest. Cut about one-third to one-half of the plant’s height anytime during the growing season. Clip the stem just above a leaf node to encourage future growth. Basil, chervil and other annual herbs grown for their leaves also can be harvested periodically during the garden year.
Gathering dill, fennel, caraway and other seed-producers requires timing. Watch for the seeds to plump and turn brown. Clip the heads immediately or you’ll lose your harvest to hungry birds.
For all your herbs, harvest only parts in good condition. Avoid harvesting from plants that are stressed or struggling to stay alive.
3. Bring herbs indoors.
Leafy herbs need a quick bath to remove any dust and dislodge garden insects. Fill the sink or a dishpan with water. Dip the herbs in the water and swish them around. Lift them out, shake gently, place on a towel and pat dry.
4. Dry carefully.
Lay large stalks in a single layer on a towel or screen. For small-leaved, short-stemmed herbs such as thyme, place the stems loosely in a bowl. Let them air-dry for six to eight days. When the leaves are crackly dry, remove them from the stems.
Each day during the drying, fluff or stir the herb stalks to expose new parts to the air. If you live in a humid area or are drying a large quantity, consider using a small fan.
Some gardeners prefer to hasten the drying process with the microwave oven. Dry only a handful at a time, no more than a minute at a time. Larger quantities will cook like spinach.
5. Store correctly.
Remove leaves, seeds and flowers from the stems. Place them whole (not crushed or ground) in airtight, wide-mouth jars with screw or snap tops. Label with contents and date and store in a cool, dark place.