Tag Archives: herbs

Harvesting, Drying and Preserving Herbs

Now that you have an assortment of herbs growing nicely in your garden what do you do with them? Mine seem to be growing more exuberantly than I anticipated and if I don’t keep up with snipping them often some will go to seed or get leggy and unproductive. Then what would I do when I’m putting together my favorite nectarine-caprese salad with fresh basil and mint leaves?

Chives and Tuscan Blue rosemary

Most herbs should be harvested before the plants are about to bloom when leaves are at peak flavor and oils are strongest. Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Harvest on a sunny morning after the dew has evaporated. To fully harvest annual herbs such as basil cut all stems back to just above the bottom two sets of leaves. Perennial herbs like sage should be cut back to about a third of their height just above a set of leaves. As you collect your harvest, keep them out of the sun or they will quickly wilt.

To store, wash herbs lightly with the leaves on the stems in cold running water to remove soil, dust or bugs, Drain on absorbent towels or hang plants upside down until the water evaporates. Then hang to dry thoroughly in small bunches in a dark, warm, well ventilated room. You can also lay them in a shallow basket or on a screen. if drying on a screen or basket remove large-leaved herbs from the stems before spreading them out. Smaller leaved herbs like thyme, savory or rosemary can be left on the stem to dry.

Herbs with a high moisture content, such as mint and basil, need rapid drying or they will mold. To retain some green leaf coloring, dry in the dark or by hanging plants upside down in bunches in paper bags.

Those herbs with a high water content like tarragon, basil, chives, lemon balm, mint and dill freeze well. Frozen herbs will keep their flavor for several months. Unlike dried herbs whose flavor is more concentrated when dried, frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh.

Herbs are dry when they crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers. Strip them from the stem and pack in labeled jars as they tend to look alike when dried. Crushing the leaves releases their essential oils so don’t do that until you use them.

Here are some herbs that do double duty in the garden:
Basil- repels flies and mosquitos. Plant with tomatoes to improve flavor.
Catnip- deters flea beetles, aphids, squash bugs, ants and weevils. Also repels mice.
Chamomile-improves the flavor of cabbages, onions and cucumbers. Accumulates calcium, sulphur and potassium, returning them later to the soil. Also a host for beneficial hoverflies and good wasps and increases the productions of essential oils in herbs.
Chives- improves growth and flavor of carrots and tomatoes. Keeps aphids away from mums and sunflowers. When planted by roses, helps prevent black spot.
Coriander/cilantro- repels aphids, spider mites and potato beetle. Coriander tea is a good spray for spider mites.
Dill- improves the growth and health of cabbage and lettuce. Plant by tomatoes to trap the tomato hornworm. Attracts many beneficials. Do not plant by caraway or carrots.
Lemon balm- deters many bugs, especially mosquitos and squash bugs.
Mint- deters cabbage moths, ants, rodents, aphids and fleas. Attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps. Attractive to earthworms.
Rosemary- plant with cabbage, carrots, beans, and sage, Deters cabbage looper and bean beetles.
Tarragon- beneficial to plants throughout the garden as is thyme.

All About Herbs

I’m helping my friend Colly, the food columnist for the Press Banner, with her cooking class at the new Boys & Girls Club in Scotts Valley. Colly has planned a summer program filled with delicious recipes and I’m looking forward to learning along with the kids in the class. The first week was all about eggs. I’m sure we’ll be using herbs in a future recipe so I’m getting my own herb garden ready. Whether you grow herbs in pots or in the ground here are some tips.

Herbs growing in pots- parsley, oregano, basil and thyme.

Growing herbs near my kitchen door has raised the bar in my cooking skills. No more having to traipse halfway around the house for a snippet of Italian parsley for the lemon butter to drizzle on rosemary chicken. The oregano and basil are nearby for stuffed baked potatoes. This summer I plan to poach salmon with mushrooms, marjoram, lemon thyme and a touch of mint.

When shopping for herbs it’s a good idea to snip a leaf and crush it between your fingers. Smell the essential oil. You’d be amazed how different herbs can smell and taste depending on the source of the plant.

Thyme can smell like caraway, pine, camphor, lavender or turpentine. Rosemary plants can vary widely in taste depending on the source of the stock. You don’t want to ruin chicken dinner by using the crushed leaves of one that tastes of pine or turpentine.

Trim your herbs often to keep them bushy and productive. Fresh herbs are at their finest in summer as they peak in flavor and essential oils. Most herb stems can be cut and kept in a jar of water, out of direct sunlight, for a few days of use. I’ve even had basil send out roots in water.

The herbs I consider essential in the kitchen garden are basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary, thyme, parsley and sage. I also grow lemon verbena for tea, potpourri or sachets for my closet and drawers and hope to add summer savory, tarragon and Grecian laurel for bay leaves.

Nearly all herbs are perennial and can be grown from seed. Anise, coriander (also known as cilantro), dill and fennel should be sown directly in the garden as they do not transplant well. Parsley lives for 2 years then flowers and goes to seed. The flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden so leave them to do their work and start new plants to eats. The herbs that are annuals and need to be planted from starts or seed every year include basil, coriander, dill and summer savory.

Although rust infects mints, very few diseases or insects attack herbs. Occasionally, spider mites may be found on low growing herb plants in hot, dry weather. Aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill and fennel. Washing off the foliage early in the day helps in controlling mites and aphids.

Here are some growing tips:
Most herbs like 6-8 hours of full sun. Well drained soil is essential. If drainage is poor, work in plenty of organic matter or grow in raised beds or containers. Water regularly until the plants are growing steadily. Then most will need only occasional watering. Exceptions are basil, chives, mint and parsley which prefer evenly moist soil. Many herbs attract beneficial insects if they are allowed to flower.

Fresh herbs are the most flavorful. The stuff in spice jars that you get in the store is often tasteless when compared to the real thing. Herb plants make beautiful ornamental additions to perennial beds and borders, too. Next week I’ll talk about how to harvest, dry and preserve herbs.

Herbs

rosemary_prostratus 2Last year I became a gourmet chef. That may be a slight exaggeration but growing herbs near my kitchen door raised the bar in my cooking skills. No more having to traipse halfway around the house for a snip of Italian parsley for the lemon butter to drizzle on rosemary chicken. And you should taste my stuffed baked onions with oregano and basil not to mention the poached salmon with mushrooms, marjoram, lemon thyme and a touch of mint. Yes, growing my own herbs has made cooking more fun, more flavorful and more nutritious.

Throughout history
herbs have been important to us. Ancient Greeks used sweet marjoram as a tonic and parsley as a cure for stomach ailments. Their athletes made a lotion of bruised mint leaves for use after a bath. Rosemary was eaten in the Middle Ages as a tranquilizer and headache cure. Mint was used at that time to purify drinking water that had turned stale on long ocean voyages.

Parsley, anise, pennyroyal, sorrel, watercress, wild leeks and lavender are just some herbs that wereOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA found to be growing in America by the early settlers. They also brought many herbs with them for flavoring food, storing with linens, strewing on floors, dying fabrics or burning just for the pleasant fragrance. Chives were planted in meadows by early Dutch settlers so cows would give chive flavored milk.  Herb gardens were an essential feature of pioneer homes and slips, seeds and plants were exchanged as we do now.

Some herbs, like oregano, contain chemical compounds that are known to have antioxidants, disease preventing and health promoting properties. Thymol, an essential oil found in oregano and thyme is strongly antiseptic and has been found to be anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Thymol has been used to control varroa mites and the growth of mold in bee colonies  although some studies indicate it also increases the permeability of other pesticides through the bee cuticle.

Herbs are super easy to grow. I started with the basic four – parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, adding basil, oregano, chives, marjoram and mint soon after. This year I'm going to start some summer savory, tarragon, coriander and a Grecian laurel plant for bay leaves.

Most herbs are perennials. They overwinter and come back each year. Parsley lives for 2 years then flowers, goes to seed and needs to be replanted. The flowers attract beneficial insects to your garden so leave them to do their work. The herbs that are annuals and need to be planted from starts or seed every year include basil, coriander, dill, and summer savory.

You can grow herbs in the ground, in containers outside or in pots inside the house if you have a sunny window. Herbs need good drainage. None will grow in wet soils. If your garden soil is poorly drained you will have to amend it with compost for any chance of success. The soil does not have to be especially fertile, though. Herbs need little fertilizer as highly fertile soil tends to produce excessive amounts of foliage with poor flavor.

I grow all my herbs in pots outside. That way I can use a good quality potting soil and make sure they get watered when the soil is dry an inch or two down. Mints like spearmint, peppermint, pineapple mint, chocolate mint, Cuban or mojito mint and orange bergomot need to be contained anyway as they spread. Some mints are grown as a groundcover and encouraged to spread like Corsican mint, pennyroyal and the California native yerba buena (satureja douglasii).

Nearly all herbs can be grown from seed. Anise, coriander (also known as cilantro), dill and fennel should be sown directly in the garden as they do not transplant well. You can start basil now inside from seed but our nights are still too cold to plant basil starts outside.

Although rust infects mints, very few diseases or insects attack herbs. Occasionally, spider mites may be found on low growing herb plants in hot, dry weather. Aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill and fennel. Washing off the foliage early in the day helps in controlling mites and aphids.

How do you harvest herbs? Fresh leaves may be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. To ensure good oil content, pick leaves after dew has disappeared but before the sun gets too hot. Most herbs are at their peak flavor just before flowering. To store, wash herbs with the leaves on the stems lightly in cold running water to remove soil, dust or bugs, Drain on absorbent towels or hang plants upside down in the sun until the water evaporates. Then hang to dry thoroughly in small bunches in a dark, warm, well ventilated room before stripping leaves off stalks. Herbs with a high moisture content, such as mint and basil, need rapid drying or they will mold. To retain some green leaf coloring, dry in the dark or by hanging plants upside down in bunches in paper bags.

Fresh herbs are the most flavorful. The stuff in spice jars that you get in the store is often tasteless when compared to the real thing. Herb plants make beautiful ornamental additions to perennial beds and borders, too. This year make your garden come alive with herbs.

 

Herbs – Harvesting & Saving

I’ve been reading a book called "Green Thoughts" by the late Eleanor Perenyi. She lived until the age of 91 passing away in 2009. Her 72 essays on gardening will live forever. She’s a hoot and her writing is delightful. I’m currently enjoying the essay about herbs. Her insights couldn’t come at a better time. My small herb collection is growing like crazy and I need ideas about how to use more of them and preserve the extras.

It’s easy to find space to grow your herbs.You don’t have to have a traditional knot garden for them. Make the most of a small sunny garden by tucking them between established plants in a border or perennial bed. One of my favorite color combinations is purple and gold so Tricolor or Purple sage mixed with Golden oregano is right up my alley. Variegated lemon thyme is another colorful herb that would also fit right in.

When shopping for herbs it’s a good idea to snip a leaf and crush it between your fingers. . You’d be amazed how different herbs can smell and taste depending on the source of the plant.

Thyme can smell like caraway, pine, camphor, lavender or turpentine and "these assuredly would be fatal to a bouquet garni" , according to Eleanor Perenyi. Rosemary plants can vary widely in taste, too. There are so many kinds available now, both upright and creeping, all originating from different stock. You don’t want to ruin chicken dinner by using the crushed leaves of one that tastes of pine or turpentine.

Trim your herbs often to keep them bushy and productive. Fresh herbs are at their finest in summer when they peak in flavor and essential oils. Most herb stems can be cut and kept in a jar of water, out of direct sunlight, for a few days of use. I’ve even had basil send out roots in the water.

Gather herbs in summer and preserve them for the rest of the year so you’ll always have some for flavoring.
Most herbs should be harvested before the plants are about to bloom. That’s when the leaves are at their peak flavor and oils are strongest. Harvest on a sunny morning after the morning dew has evaporated. To fully harvest annual herbs such as basil cut all stems back to just above the bottom two sets of leaves. Perennial herbs like sage should be cut back to about a third of their height also just above a set of leaves. As you collect your harvest, keep them out of the sun or they will quickly wilt.

Some herbs with a high water content like tarragon, basil, chives, lemon balm, mint and dill freeze well. Frozen herbs will keep their flavor for several months. Unlike dried herbs whose flavor is more concentrated when dried, frozen herbs can be used in the same proportion as fresh.

Dry other herbs by hanging in bundles or laying on a shallow basket or screen. if drying on a screen or basket remove large-leaved herbs from the stems before spreading them out. Smaller leaved herbs like thyme, savory or rosemary can be left on the stem to dry.

Herbs are dry when they crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers. Strip them from the stem and pack in labeled jars as they tend to look alike when dried. Crushing the leaves releases their essential oils, so don’t do that until you use them.

The five herbs I consider essential in the kitchen garden are basil, cilantro, oregano, rosemary and thyme. I also grow lemon verbena for tea, potpourri or in sachets for my closet and drawers, I grow lemon grass which has citronella oil to help ward off mosquitos.

You may choose herbs for salsa or tea or Italian dishes. Herbs can by used in cosmetics, natural dyes, crafts, potpourri or medicinally. Herb flavored vinegars, tea, honey, butter, cheese, salt or sugar are great ways to use your herbs. I like them all.

 

Drying Herbs

Many people are growing their own vegetables these days and probably have some favorite herbs growing in the garden, too.  There’s nothing like fresh herbs to bring flavor to a favorite recipe.  Out in the garden, few things beat the wonderful aroma of basil, rosemary or thyme as it infuses the air as you gently rub the leaves between your fingertips.  When your herb plants grow faster than you can use them, it’s time to harvest some for drying. Regular pruning encourages new growth.

Most herbs should be harvested before the plants are about to bloom. That’s when the leaves are at their peak flavor. Pick a sunny day and harvest in the morning when the oils are strongest and morning dew has evaporated.

is easy- either hang them in bunches or lay in a shallow basket or on a screen in a well-ventilated place out of the sun.  If you’re drying on screens or in baskets, remove large-leaved herbs from their stems and spread them out.  Smaller leaved herbs like thyme, savory or rosemary can be left on their stems to dry. Depending on the weather, it may take a few days to a few weeks for your herbs to dry fully.

A dried herb should crackle and crumble when rubbed between your fingers. Once the herbs are dry, gently strip the leaves and pack them into clean, dry jars with tight fitting lids. Pack the leaves whole to retain the best flavor. Crushing the leaves releases their essential oils, so don’t do that until you use them. Store away from light and heat. They are best if used within a year.