Perhaps the most rewarding part of growing a home herb garden is when you get to actually use your herbs. Theres nothing like enjoying the fruits (or in this case herbs) of your labor. But your learning isn’t finished yet, there are still many things you can do (and many things you should NOT) do when it comes to harvesting your herbs that will help you get the most out of your home herb garden.
Its a little known fact that herbs change their potency throughout the day. Harvesting at the wrong time will result in less flavorful herbs. Heat and wind can actually break down and disperse the flavorful oils in herbs, so you will want to make sure these herbs have a chance to recuperate before harvesting them. Herbs also lose their oils on wet days as well, so the best time to harvest your home herb garden is on a calm, dry morning, just after the dew has dried off of the leaves and before the flowers open. Don’t worry about pruning them too often because pruning encourages new growth. A good amount to harvest is about one third of the plant. This is also a good time to inspect the herbs for insect damage or disease. Once picked you can use you herbs fresh or preserve them to use later.
There are three common ways to preserve the herbs from your home herb garden. Those are drying, freezing or using a medium such as salt or vinegar. A great way to dry them is to take a half to one full dozen stems with the leaves near the bottom trimmed off, put them in a bundle and tie them up with a string. Next, hang the bundle in a place that is cool, dry and dark. The oils in the herbs will break down if they are exposed to too much sunlight. When drying leaves, put them on a rack or screen and also dry them in a cool, dark and dry place. Turn them periodically to ensure they dry evenly. You can also use home appliances to dry herbs from your home herb garden like dehydrators, ovens and microwaves, although the results are often not as good as the first method mentioned. If you want to freeze your herbs, try cutting them into 1/4 inch pieces and spreading them over a cooking sheet lined with wax paper before putting them in the freezer. Once they are all frozen, put them all together in a bag. Some herbs from your home herb garden like tarragon, chopped mint and basil can also be preserved in vinegar. You can preserve herbs and make flavored salt at the same time by storing them together with alternating layers of herbs and salt. Once the herbs are brown they are completely dried with this method and you can separate them. Storing them in an airtight container will greatly improve their shelf life.
I enjoy eating my herbs fresh from my home herb garden. But before you do the same, its important to wash them before eating. To do this, place them in a bowl of water and add a teaspoon of salt. The salt will drive away any insects but won’t hurt the plant. When finished washing, just dry them in a salad spinner if possible, or let them air dry.
I recommend looking into each herb’s specific harvesting procedures before tackling the job, because what works well for some does not work well for all. These guidelines however, should give you a good general idea of the proper way to harvest your home herb garden.
Thomas Rittenhouse is an herb gardening enthusiast, dedicated to sharing his knowledge of herb gardening with you. His newest website: Herb-Gardening-Center.com [http://www.herb-gardening-center.com/] teaches people how to grow and maintain a flourishing home herb garden.
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