Drying herbs is a wonderful way to save your fresh harvest and extend the use of your garden into the winter months.
Less oil is produced on really wet days and most herbs will have their most oil content just before the flower opens. The best day to harvest is a rather dry, sunny one and should be done in the morning after the dew has dried from the plant. Herbs grown for their foliage should be harvested before they flower. Herb flowers have their most intense oil concentration and flavor when harvested after flower buds appear but before they are fully open, so collect herb flowers just before full flower. Harvest herb roots in the fall after the foliage fades.
Annual herbs can be harvested until frost. Perennial herbs can be clipped until late August, early September. Stop harvesting about one month before the first frost date. Pruning late into fall could encourage new growth that will not have time to harden off before winter.
The plant will need enough foliage to re-grow after harvesting, so for a mid-season harvest do not take more than one third of the plant foliage. Check the picked foliage for insects, eggs or leaf damage and rinse in tepid water if needed. Pat dry with a paper towel.
To prepare for drying, remove any foliage near the base of the stem and tie twine around 6 to 7 stems to form a bundle. A rubber band works well too as it contracts as the stems dry. Hang in a cool spot that has good air circulation and is not in direct sunlight. You can dry individual leaves on a screen, turning them frequently. Dry until leaves and stems are crisp. You can then store them “as is” on the dried stem or remove the leaves and place them in a jar. Store dried herbs in a dark, dry location away from any heat source. Airtight storage will preserve aroma and flavors the best. If needed, an old sock can be placed over the jar to prevent light infiltration.
Freezing is another method of herb preservation. Place the herbs on a baking sheet that has been lined with waxed paper then place it in the freezer. Young stems with the leaves can be frozen as a unit and herbs such as chives will need to be snipped into ¼ inch pieces. After they are frozen, place them into plastic freezer bags and use as needed.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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