I have lots of herbs growing. When is the best time to harvest them for drying and storage?
Each herb is different, but here are a few general rules for drying and storing herbs:
As a general rule, you can start harvesting when the plant has enough foliage to sustain growth. Harvest in the early part of the day and harvest no more than 2/3 of the plant at one time. Perennial herbs should not be harvested later than one month prior to the first frost to ensure they have time to store resources for winter.
The best way to dry herbs is to hang them and let them air dry. Clean herbs under running water if necessary. Shake off excess water and remove any dead or damaged foliage. Tie stems into small bundles and hang upside down to dry in a warm, dry place out of direct sunlight. To catch seeds or petals, cover the flower end of the stems with a paper bag (with air holes). Other methods of drying include laying herbs across screens or drying them on the lowest settings of a food dehydrator or conventional oven or if you have the time and patience, drying them for short 1 to 2 minutes increments in a microwave (after a few days of air drying). When dry, leaves will be brittle and crumble easily. Store them in airtight glass or plastic containers (or bags) in a dark, dry location like a pantry or cupboard.
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You can cut herbs for drying or cooking any time the plant is full and healthy. Also, when it is getting overly full and starting to look like it needs help. Some should even be pruned back regularly during the growing season to keep them in optimum health, and also pruned just before over-wintering.
Make sure that you leave at least an inch of growth, and that your cut is above at least one of leaves. New shoots will appear at the bases of the leaves. Water well after a thorough pruning, unless you are preparing to over-winter the plant. It takes water to support new growth! (For over-wintering, just barely moisten. Less water is better during dormancy.)
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I wouldn't have believed my mom, but I tried it, and the microwave really works! I just place (for example) a bunch basil on a paper towel, place it in the microwave and "cook" until dry. The time depends on the amount of herb. Good luck.
Most herbs should be harvested before they flower, early in the morning when the sun is up and the most oils are in the leaves. I gather small bunches together and secure with twist 'ems or rubberbands. Hang upside down in a dark area with lots of ventilation. Paper bags work good and also keep the flys off the herbs.
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