Herb Harvest and Preservation

When Andy and I lived in a tiny attic apartment when we were first married, I planted a window box with herbs. It was my first time planting anything and I am very certain it was lucky that the window faced the correct direction and everything grew well.

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I learned a lot about growing, harvesting, and preserving herbs. I also became addicted to cooking and baking with fresh ones! It literally transforms your cooking.

This year, I planted a large herb garden and it was so great. I planted some smaller plants so things took a while to get going but once they did, I was in heaven! I already have plans to add more plants to the mix next year. My plants are still a little on the small side but I think you’ll be surprised at how much I get from them.

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My favorite way to store herbs is to dry them. It isn’t super fast but it requires minimal effort on my part and minimal storage space. Pantry space is at a premium these days. Probably because I don’t have a pantry.

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I’ll outline how I harvest 4 of my most often used herbs and then how I dry and store them!

First up, parsley. I like flat leaf Italian parsley. I planted two parsley plants and I do a harvest like this about every week.

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The plants are full and bushy, that is always my main goal when cutting herbs. I want to encourage bush-like growth as opposed to tree-like growth. This ensures that I get more leaf (herb) growth than stem growth.

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New growth on your parsley plant will grow from the bottom of the plant up. It doesn’t divide from already grown stems. You can see the smaller leaves  in the above photo are shorter and nestled down into the larger leaves.

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So when I cut my parsley, I cut the larger leaves and stems at the base. This lets the new growth get more light and grow up more quickly. That way I also avoid accidentally cutting the new growth and stunting my plants production. Cilantro can also be harvested this way.

Warning: I have gardener hands. Not model hands. #sorrynotsorry

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You can see I cut them back quite a bit. I actually find that harvesting a little from my plants before they are really producing can actually get them growing a little better. A good trim will do wonders first thing in the springtime. Don’t be afraid to really cut the large leaves off. The more light you give the little ones, the quicker your plant will recover.

Second on the list, Sage. I love sage. Transforming breakfast sausage from bland to bazinga since the beginning of time. And countless other dishes.

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Sage grows differently than parsley. You can see here that the new leaves are growing from the same stem as the larger leaves. You could just go around and cut off all the big leaves but I find that makes my plants leggy.

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I keep them nice and bushy by just loping off the tops of stems and leaving the smaller growth beneath. I also don’t get my panties in a twist over eaten leaves or other imperfections on my plants. Just give them a good washing and eat away! I promise, nothing terrible will happen. Pinky swear and cross my heart.

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Third is Thyme. Again, a favorite. Good for savory and sweet dishes. It makes my mouth water.

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Thyme is pretty easy to harvest. There are a couple ways I normally do it. You can see that all the individual stems are growing from one main stem.

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You can cut from the base here and get a good combination of more mature stems and more tender stems. I do it this way when my plants are really large and I want to harvest a lot.

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Or, if you just need a few sprigs you can just grab a few stems and cut off the tops. It will just keep on growing and producing leaves.

Next is rosemary.

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Rosemary actually also grows like thyme {as does lavender and mint}. You can cut just about anywhere and it will keep growing and producing leaves.

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To keep my plants bushy, I usually just cut from the base on the longer stems. Rosemary is so versatile, I love it in fresh bread.

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Basil. Where would the world be without basil? No where good, I can tell you that. I have a few basil plants and plan to plant more. I like to make pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays in addition to drying it.

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The way basil grows is similar to the way sage grows. New leaves will grow off of a main stem. I like to trim it the same way I trim sage.

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I find the tallest leaves and clip them down near where they are coming out of the stem. That way I can make sure I leave the small leaves.

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Clipping the basil this way makes the stems a little bit longer and easier to handle.

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It’s always a party in the garden with all the animals. They just gather when we are outside!

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After I harvest my herbs, I usually keep them in jars with water so I can have some fresh and have some available to dry.

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Sometimes I have a hard time getting my basil to stay in the jar because of those leaves there on the bottom.

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I pick off those little ones that would just be in the water and either use them right away or dry them.

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Fresh herbs make everything beautiful! I only keep enough fresh for about a week. I usually end up using more parsley so I just proportion out what I normally use. You will get the hang of how much you need the more you use fresh herbs.

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There are a few ways I have found that work well for me to dry herbs. The simplest way is to just set them on a plate. I move them around a little bit every couple of days to make sure all the leaves are drying down.

 

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This is some parsley on the same plate that I dried down earlier. It really shrinks down a lot when it is fully dry.

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Another way I like to dry herbs is by tying a small bunch up with a gum-band and hanging them. This works a little better than the plate method because all the stems are aligned and easy to remove.

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Once your herbs are dried down, it’s time to grind them. I like to use a mortar and pestle but any method would work. You could use a food processor or even just crumble them in your hands. They have to be really dry for this to work and for them to store well. They should crumble off the stems easily if they are dry enough. Each herb will be a little different but as you dry herbs more and more you will get to know when they are ready. For example, parsley is a little papery so it won’t crumble as readily as dried basil.

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Because I am grinding the parsley I dried on the plate, I just put it in the mortar with the stems on. As you grind, the stems will loosen and you will be able to pull them out. I just pull them out as I see them because it allows the leaves to grind up a little more easily.

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I don’t usually worry about getting my herbs too small so at this point I transfer them into empty containers. Mason jars are my favorite but I have also used empty old spice containers.

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That’s how I harvest and dry herbs! I find that growing and preserving my own herbs is actually quite economical in comparison to purchasing fresh or good quality dry herbs at the store.

Herb harvest and preservation.

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5 Comments

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