Today's Gardener (todaysgardener.com) is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This site also participates in other affiliate programs and is compensated for referring traffic and business to them.
I remember how I felt when I first started growing and harvesting herbs. Learning how to harvest and dry herbs seemed as though it was something hard and puzzling. I was perplexed by all the different kinds of herbs and overwhelmed by the numerous information that I had found in different gardening books. If only there had been resources like the ones today, it would have been a faster process, for sure.
The process of harvesting and drying depends heavily on which herbs you have in mind. Not all herbs are the same, and that’s why not all harvesting or drying methods are the same either. Furthermore, I have composed all information on how to harvest and dry herbs in one article.
The Tools You Will Need
First and foremost, you have to collect the tools necessary for harvesting and drying. For cutting, I usually use a harvest knife, which comes with a curved blade made of carbon steel.
If you do not have one of these, a nice pruner can prove itself as handy too. Aside from a knife, a good pair of scissors is a must. Try to find a smaller pair, as it is easier to use on more sensitive herbs, such as basil. Ultimately, you will need a nice drying rack. Here is the list of the best herb drying racks I composed to make your choice a bit easier.
Do a favor to your herbs and do not forget to maintain the hygiene of your tools! Always clean the blades before use and between plants. A couple of drops of rubbing alcohol, or any other antiseptic, will fit the bill.
If you are prone to allergies or just want to stay clean, wear gloves. Certain herbs contain skin irritants, such as silica, and can cause an allergic reaction in some people. Better stay safe than sorry!
Sometimes, herbs can catch a disease. If that happens, you should not harvest them. But you should not give up either! When it happens to my plants, I imagine that I am a garden nurse and my plants are my patients. Adopt the same mindset in this case; try to take care of your herbs for some time, and they will soon be healthy again.
The Best Time to Harvest
Alright, so now that you have gathered the tools, the next step is to pick the ideal time for harvest.
When learning how to harvest and dry herbs, choosing the ideal timing is essential. Most harvests take place in spring or summer, the latter being more common.
You should also know that you can harvest a herb multiple times, and how many depends on whether your herbs are perennial or annual.
You should NEVER cut the whole plant, as it needs to regrow. We usually cut one-third of the plant.
Sometimes, you will only need some parts of the herb and not the entire plant. Knowing which parts you need is crucial when deciding on the time of harvest. An important question that you need to ask yourself is ‘What do I grow my herbs for?’ Once you have this question answered, you will know when to start.
How To Harvest Herbs
Harvesting for Seeds
Are you growing herbs for their seeds? Do you want to turn your herbs into delicious spices? If so, then the best harvest time is when the flowers mature and become brown. Some herbs that you can harvest for their seeds are as follows:
If you can’t wait until your dill seeds are ready for pickling or for a lovely marinade, get hold of a sharp pair of scissors or pruners, and cut the plant’s leafy foliage. You can also remove the entire stems of the plant if that is what you wish to do – there will not be any difference.
For fennel, there is no need for scissors; shaking the seed head above a large bowl will do the trick. In case there are any seeds left on the stem, you can remove them manually.
In case of coriander, you have to cut the seed head off, but don’t forget the upper part of the stalk too! After cutting it, find a paper bag where you can store it, and hang the bag upside down. The seeds will eventually fall down into the bottom of the bag.
Harvesting for Leaves
Some herbs, on the other hand, are grown for their leaves.
If you intend to maintain herb’s beautiful fragrance, then you’d better be a morning person! The best time of day for harvesting such herbs is early morning; ideally right after the dew has evaporated. This will ensure that the taste of your herbs remains intact; do not wash these herbs or their natural oils will disappear.
After blooming, the taste of some herbs grown for their leaves becomes bitter, which is why you should harvest them right before they would start to bloom.
Basil is a good example of a herb used for its leaves. It needs to be 6 to 8 inches long before harvesting. Be very careful when removing its leaves, as the stem should stay out of damage. You can either pick the leaves with your hands or gently cut them with a thin pair of scissors.
Harvesting for Flowers
When it comes to the herbs grown for their flowers, it would be best to harvest them before the flowers are completely opened.
A herb grown for its flowers, which are famous for their beauty and pleasant smell, is lavender. Lavender is ready to harvest in early spring, right after its flowers have opened. Gather a few bunches of lavender in one hand and use the other hand to cut it two inches above the woody growth, using a harvest knife or a hand pruner.
Make sure to remove all dead matter afterwards, but be careful not to damage the woody growth, as you will need it for future harvests.
Another flowering herb is borage, a Mediterranean plant known for its cucumber-like taste. All you need to do in order to harvest it is to cut it right below its clump of blossoms, which can be done with any pair of scissors. Do not forget to put on a good pair of gloves, too. Borage contains silica, which can irritate your skin.
If you like spending your afternoons drinking hot tea, then it is a great privilege to know how to harvest chamomile. Similarly to lavender and borage, you need to cut it just below its bunch of flowers.
Harvesting for Roots
While the harvest seasons for seeds, leaves, and flowers are spring and summer, you should not forget about root harvesting, which is done in the autumn. Roots have proved themselves useful in herbal medicine, and as such, they should not be forgotten.
As roots represent the source of life of the plant, you need to make sure that you are not cutting herbs that you would like to use at a later time. Once you have cut a plant’s root, you can’t use the plant again.
How To Dry Herbs
So now you are halfway through the process of learning how to harvest and dry herbs. We have covered all the basics of harvesting, but what about drying? Don’t worry, it is the easier part! If you don’t want to use your herbs fresh and want them to stay put in your kitchen cupboards for a long time, then you should dry them.
There is a common misconception that dried herbs are not of very good quality when compared to fresh herbs, but I can assure you that it doesn’t have to be the case, as long as you dry your herbs properly. Just like fresh herbs, dried herbs can be used in cooking and they can add an equally delectable aroma to your meals.
1. Herbs’ Health
First of all, you need to pay attention to the physical features of the herbs that you are going to dry. Some herbs can quickly catch mold because of a high moisture level, and such herbs should be dried as soon as possible. This is especially true for herbs that have tender leaves, such as basil and bay leaf.
2. Cleaning The Herbs
The next thing that you need to do is make your herbs clean. Wash them in a sink using only a little bit of water. Be careful, though; too much washing can damage your herbs, make them more susceptible to mold, or cause them to lose large amounts of their natural oils. You should also pick only the healthy parts of your herbs.
3. Preparing For Drying
Prepare a towel or a kitchen rag, place it onto the kitchen sink and lay your herbs over it. In case your kitchen doesn’t get enough air, you can lay your herbs across a window sill. I recommend that you do not dry your herbs outside, as the heat of the sun can make them too dry. If a herb is too dry, it will lose its distinctive flavor, and we don’t want that, do we?
4. Drying And Storing
After you have laid the herbs, let them dry for some time and check on them regularly. After they have dried, you can store them in small jars. Don’t forget to label them! In my cupboard, you can see a nice assortment of jars stuffed with herbs, all of them properly labeled, as a lot of herbs look very similar to one another and you can mistake mint for basil quite easily!
Another way to dry your herbs is to use a paper bag. Put a bundle of herbs inside the bag and hang it upside down. You can even hang it outside, but you need to check on it regularly as drying herbs for too long, especially in the summer, can make them useless, regardless of whether they are stuffed in a bag or not.
There are other methods of drying herbs, and one of them is using a drying rack. If you remember, we talked about making your own drying rack. Of course, if you are not much of a DIYer, you can always get one from this list of recommendations.
It is true that food tastes best when all the ingredients are new and fresh, but sometimes we cannot use every herb at once. A herb’s freshness level usually ebbs away within a week, and it’s a pity to just sling it into the garbage. That is why we should take to drying herbs, and never regret it.
1. Where can I store herbs properly?
If you have a dark pantry room that is far away from heat, then it is the best place to store your herb-stuffed jars. In case you do not have it, then a kitchen cupboard is a good option too. However, the cupboard should not be too close to your oven, as heat can damage the quality of your herbs.
2. What is the lifespan of dried herbs?
It depends, but you can generally use dried herbs for a long time, up to three years. However, if you would like to get the “full advantage” of a herb’s flavor, then you should use it in the first year only.
As you could see, harvesting and drying herbs is easy and anyone can do it. Now that you know how to harvest and dry herbs, it is time to go and prepare a delicious meal or have a cup of herbal tea!
What do you think about it? If you liked this article, please scroll down and leave a comment! You can also share a couple of recipes featuring some savory meals with me!