How to Properly Harvest & Preserve Herbs

Growing your own herbs is a great project for any gardener. Fresh herbs are so much better than storebought at a fraction of the price. They’re also easy to grow and take up little space making them ideal for container gardening or just those who are too busy for a full garden.

Herbs to Grow

If you don’t already have an herb garden, these are a few great herbs to start with:

  • Basil
    This heat-loving annual can really make homemade pizza or pasta great.
  • Lemon Balm
    A member of the mint family, lemon balm is vigorous and perennial. It’s most commonly used to make a relaxing, lemony tea.
  • Thyme
    Another perennial, thyme is quite easy to grow and useful. We’ve actually got a whole post about why you should grow thyme.
  • Cilantro
    If you love to cook, a few cilantro plants are a must have. The leaves and seeds are used in Chinese, Indian, and Mexican cuisine.
  • Parsley
    Fresh parsley is so much more flavorful and it’s beautiful and nutritious too! It doesn’t mind cool weather so it can be direct sown in early spring.
  • Chives
    Easy to grow and perennial, chives are a great choice for new gardeners.
Dark Opal Basil

Harvesting 

There are a few general tips that can help you capture the best flavor and aroma when it’s time to harvest your herbs.

  • Harvest your herbs before they flower as leaf production typically declines after flowering and some plants lose flavor after flowering.
  • Harvest in the morning just after the dew dries but before the heat of the day. This is when the plants’ oil content is highest so they’ll be the most flavorful and aromatic.
  • Harvest your herbs right before you need them if you can. They lose flavor quickly.
  • Avoid washing your herbs if possible.

If you’re harvesting from a perennial plant like lemon balm or chives there are a few additional things to consider.

  • Stop harvesting at least 1 month before your last frost date. This gives the plant time to recover, store energy for winter, and avoids encouraging young shoots that could be harmed by a frost.
  • For most plants, you should avoid harvesting more than 75% of the plant’s growth.

Preserving

Air Drying

Herbs that have low moisture content, like thyme, can be dried in bundles. Simply cut several stems and tie them together with string. Then hang them upside down in a dark, well-ventilated room. To avoid dust you can place a paper bag upside down over each bundle. Your herbs should be dry in 2-3 weeks and you can remove the leaves and place them in an airtight container for storage.

Herbs with high moisture content like lemon balm and cilantro may need to be dried more quickly, especially in humid climates. You can pull off the leaves and lay them in a single layer to dry on a screen.

Dehydrating

If you have a dehydrator you can preserve a lot of herbs quite quickly. It’s probably easiest to dry whole leaves and then brake them up for storage in an airtight container. When drying herbs be sure to use a low temperature to preserve their flavor best.

Freezing

Herbs are surprisingly easy to freeze and there are several ways to freeze them. The simplest way is to just chop them up, spread them on a cookie sheet, and freeze. You can then move them to a container so they’re easy to grab a pinch when you’re making dinner.

Alternatively, you can freeze them in ice cube trays. Herbs like lemon balm can be chopped up and frozen in water in ice cube tray, excellent for making iced lemon balm tea! Others like basil can be frozen in ice cube trays in broth or butter for adding to meals.

Adding herbs to your garden is well worth the effort especially if you know how to properly harvest and freeze them. Keep these tips in mind this summer as you use your garden fresh herbs for great meals and maybe even a few cocktail garnishes!

Heat Tolerant Greens to Try This Summer

Summer brings a bounty of garden produce but it can be a tricky time for greens production. Many leafy greens do best in the cool weather of spring and fall. When the midsummer heat hits they bolt and turn bitter. If you appreciate having greens in your garden as long as possible consider trying a couple of these heat tolerant varieties this summer.

Green Glaze Collards

Perfect for southern and warm coastal states this collard is heat-resistant, slow-bolting, and non-heading. It was introduced by David Landreth in 1820 and is easily recognized by it’s uniquely smooth, bright green leaves. It’s also great for those who struggle with pests because it’s resistant to cabbage worms and loopers.

Magenta Magic Orach

This deep red orach is a great addition to any salad mix. It has a slightly spicy flavor and tender leaves. It tolerates heat well and leaves may be eaten even as plants go to seed.

Perpetual Spinach (Leaf Beet Chard)

This European heirloom dates back to 1869 and is an excellent summer substitute for spinach. Though not quite as sweet as spinach it produces all summer long!

Jewels of Opar (Fame Flower)

A relative of purslane, Jewels of Opar offers mild succulent leaves as well as beautiful flowers and seed pods. Read more about this awesome plant here.

Jericho Romaine Lettuce

Introduced from Israel, this variety is bred for the desert heat. Jericho has good tip-burn resistance and retains its sweetness when other varieties have gone bitter.

Red Malabar Summer Spinach 

These Asian greens are a great heat-tolerant substitute for spinach. They’re good for salads and stir-fries but they do require trellising. This season our grower has been having trouble but we have conventional seed available here.

Speckled Bibb Lettuce

Speckled Bibb is a great tasting and attractive variety for any season. It holds longer in the heat without bolting than other varieties like Slo-bolt and Buttercrunch in hot weather.

Tips for Hot Weather Greens

This summer keep a steady supply of greens coming in from your garden with one of these vareties.

5 Free Shows on Gardening, Food, & Farming

Gardening may be as good as therapy but sometimes we all need to kick back and enjoy a little screen time. While Game of Thrones may be really exciting, next time you’re in the mood for a Netflix binge consider one of these five documentaries. They’re all free to watch and shed light on gardening, food, and farming.

Living Soil Film

This documentary, produced by the Soil Health Institute, discusses the problems with humans’ relationship with soil. It introduces staggering statistics like, “the societal and environmental costs of soil loss and degradation in the United States alone are now estimated to be as high as $85 billion every single year” and provides methods for more sustainable farming. It features innovative farmers and soil experts from across the United States. Learn more about soil and how you can keep your garden’s soil healthy.

Tales from the Green Valley

Though not a documentary this TV show created by the BBC as part of a historic farming series is an informative look at agricultural techniques of the past. The show follows historians Ruth Goodman and Stuart Peachy as well as archeologists Alex Langlands, Peter Ginn, and Chloe Spencer as they run a historical farm just the way it would have been in the 17th century for a full calendar year. Try an episode (or twelve!) for a glimpse of history through the lens of everyday life.

Unbroken Ground 

Created by Patagonia Provisions, this short documentary discusses the role of agriculture in our current environmental crisis. It takes an inspirational look at folks who are trying to change the way we produce food and protect our lands and waters. Join the food revolution with this informative film.

Treasures of New York: The New York Botanical Garden

This PBS special explores the 250 acre New York Botanical Garden. A “museum of plants,” the New York Botanical Garden is home to over million plants and operates one of the world’s largest plant research and conservation programs. Get inspired as you follow along on a tour of this amazing garden.

Stone Age Stories: First Farmers

This documentary focuses in on archeological evidence that Stone Age peoples began gathering and growing grains. It attempts to explain their transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to farmers. It also looks at the beginning of permanent settlements, animal domestication, and metal working. Check it out to learn more about agriculture’s profound effect on civilization.

Next time you’re having a family movie night or just want to relax on a rainy afternoon try one of these documentaries. They might change your ideas about food and farming! 

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Saving the Past for the Future