Spice Rack where you'll find the difference between
herbs and spices plus information on all the common spices
Harvesting and Drying Herbs
There is nothing so aromatic as picking
your own herbs on a warm sunny day. The smell that floats through the air is just
wonderful. To take full advantage of your crop, a few rules should be followed.
Harvest time for an herb is best determined by the growing condition of the herb, rather
than by a specific date or month. Most herbs are ready to be harvested just as the flower
buds first appear. The leaves contain the maximum amount of volatile oils at this stage of
growth, giving the greatest flavor and fragrance to the finished product.
To extend the use of herbs into the winter months, plan to harvest and dry various herbs
during the summer and fall. Herbs should be harvested at the proper time of the day; early
in the morning, just before the sun is hot. Their fragrance makes this early task quite
Annual herbs can be cut back quite severely during harvest. Using a
sharp knife or pruning shears, cut just above a leaf or a pair of
leaves, leaving 4 to 6 inches of the stem for later growth. However,
if an annual herb is grown for it's seed, it should not be cut back
and used for the leaves. In these cases, allow the plants to mature
fully and then harvest them. Collect the seed heads when they are
turning brown by cutting them from the plants and drying them on a
tray made of very fine wire mesh.
Leafy perennial herbs should not be cut back as heavily as annuals. Only about one-third
of the top growth should be removed at a time, and in some cases only the leafy tips
should be removed. Careful pruning insures that new growth will be produced and a compact
habit of growth maintained. Most perennial herbs will be ready to harvest just prior to or
during the early part of July, with a second harvest possible in September in the cases of
herbs such as tarragon and oregano. A sharp knife or pair of pruning shears are necessary
tools when harvesting herbs. The herbs should be fresh and clean before drying and
storing, regardless of the method used to cure them. To clean, wash stems in cold running
water and drain on paper toweling. The easiest way to dry herbs is to allow the leaves or
entire stems to air dry at room temperature.
When drying whole branches or stems: first wash and dry, then gather 5 to 8 stems together
and tie them into a bundle. Place the bundle into a brown paper bag with stems extending
out the open end and hang in a dark warm place (70 to 80 degrees F). Depending on
temperature and moisture, drying time will take 2 to 4 weeks. Tray drying is usually used
for short-stemmed herbs or for individual leaves; an old window screen or smaller drying
tray fashioned from 2"x2" lumber and screening usually works as a drying tray.
The trays should be kept in a warm, dark place until the herbs are dry.
||Our spring time herbs on the deck
A large tomato plant is in the background with, from left,
basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano, and parsley
Basil is the prime ingredient in Pesto
An ordinary gas, electric or microwave oven can be used for quicker drying of herbs. Care
must be taken, for herbs can't be desiccated too quickly at too high a temperature or much
of the flavor, oils, and color of the herbs would be lost. When drying with a conventional
oven: place the
leaves or stems on a cookie sheet or shallow pan and warm at no more than 180 F for 3 to 4
hours with the oven door open. When using a microwave oven: place the clean stems or
leaves on a paper plate or towel and set the control on high for 1 to 3 minutes; turn the
stems over or mix the leaves every 30 seconds.
Store the herbs in airtight jars in a cool, dry place. If the entire stems were dried,
remove the leaves and crush or crumble them in jars. The herbs must be completely dried or
they will form mold. Keep the jars away from light and heat, as both will destroy the
quality of the herbs.
||If you are using a lot of minced herbs, like
parsley when making sausage, this handy little
stainless-steel tool, with its 3-inch head and nine round,
sharp blades, quickly and evenly minces a heap of herbs with
a simple rolling motion
There are many other methods of preserving herbs. Many herbs can be successfully frozen,
and retain their freshness after being thawed. When freezing herbs, they must first be
harvested and washed thoroughly. Blanch the herbs in boiling water for a minute or two,
and then cool quickly in ice water. After draining, place the herbs in a package and
freeze them. Some herbs, such as parsley, chives and basil can be pureed with a small
amount of water in a blender, and then frozen in an ice cube tray. They can later be
stored in plastic bags for use in flavoring soup and sauces.
Herb vinegars are an extremely popular use for home grown herbs. To make herb vinegar:
place herbs in a jar or bottle and cover with white vinegar and secure with a tight lid,
storing the bottle in a cool, dry place. After steeping for 4 to 6 weeks, the vinegar can
be poured off into smaller bottles and capped.
Herb butter can be made with the addition of about 4 tablespoons full of dried herb leaves
and a dash of lemon juice to 1/4 pound of butter softened at room temperature. The butter
should then be stored in the refrigerator in a covered container.
Herb mustard is a mixture of 8 tablespoonfuls of dry mustard, 8 tablespoonfuls
of salt and
a teaspoonful of sugar with just enough vinegar to make a smooth paste. The mixture should
then be divided into four portions; into each portion mix one table-spoonful of desired
Potpourri is a mixture of dried herbs and flower petals that preserves the aromatic
fragrances of the summer months. Most potpourris start with dried roses and lavender as a
base, to which other dried herbs are added. The herbs used depends on personal preference
and availability; some popular choices include: sweet basil, lemon verbena, sweet
marjoram, lemon balm, scented geranium, rosemary, thyme and mint. To make a potpourri:
begin by mixing 4 to 6 cupfuls of various dried petals and leaves in a large bowl. Add a
tablespoonful of whole cloves, cinnamon, or ginger. To blend the herbs and to make them
last, add a fixative such as calamus root, benzoin or orris root. Only one ounce is needed
per batch. The mixture should be stored in jars with tight-fitting lids, and be shaken or
stirred occasionally. After 4 or 5 weeks, the potpourri mixture should be well blended and
can be placed in ornamental canisters or sachets.
Anise-(A)- The green leaves can be cut off whenever the
plants are large enough. The seeds are ready when they turn brown. Wash In warm water,
drain thoroughly, and allow to air dry.
Use: The leaves can be used in salads, soups, beverages, meats, game, and poultry. The
seeds are used to flavor cakes, bread, and cookies. Leaves and seeds also add a delightful
scent to sachets and potpourris.
Basil, Sweet-(A)- For fresh use, harvest the leaves as they
mature-about 2 weeks after planting. For dry use, harvest leaves just before the plant
Use: One of the most popular herbs, used mainly with tomato and egg dishes, stews, soups,
and salads, but also with many vegetable, poultry, and meat dishes.
Caraway-(B)- The seeds are harvested after they turn a
gray-brown color. Scald the seeds in boiling water, then dry thoroughly.
Uses: Use the seeds in breads, cakes, cookies, potato salad, and baked fruit (apples, for
example). Also can be used in Hungarian-type dishes, coleslaw, sauerkraut, cheese spread,
meat stews, and fish casseroles.
Chervil-(A)- For fresh use, pick the tips of stems once a
month. For dry use, harvest leaves just before the blossoms open. Dry on trays.
Uses: Use fresh leaves the same as you would parsley, such as in salads, salad dressings,
soups, egg dishes, and cheese soufflés.
Chives-(P)- Leaves can be harvested any time during the
growing season. Cut them off close to the ground. Can be pureed with water in a blender
and frozen in ice cube trays.
Uses: Chives add a mild onion-like flavor to dips, spreads, soups, salads, omelets,
casseroles, and many kinds of vegetables
Coriander-(A)- The leaves, called
cilantro, which are only used fresh, can be
cut for seasoning as soon as the plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. The
coriander seeds can be harvested
when the heads turn brown.
Uses: Coriander seeds smell and last much like a mixture of sage and orange and can be
used in baking, poultry dressings, and French salad dressing. Much used in Chinese, Middle
Eastern, and Latin American cuisine.
Dill-(A)- The fresh leaves can be harvested as needed and
used as seasoning. Seed heads should be harvested then the seeds ripen to a light brown
Uses: Leaves and seed heads are most commonly used in the making of dill pickles. The
leaves also add a characteristic flavor to salads, cottage cheese, soups, fish dishes,
omelets, sauces, and vegetable casseroles. Dill seeds are sometimes used in pastries,
sauces, sauerkraut dishes, and for flavoring vinegar.
Fennel-(TP)- The leaves can be harvested and used fresh.
Fennel seeds are harvested when the seed heads turn brown. Dry in a paper bag. Florence
fennel is harvested when the bulbs are large enough.
Uses: The anise-flavored leaves and seeds of this herb are widely used in fish dishes,
cheese spreads, and vegetable dishes. The leaves and stems can be used in much the same
way as celery. Florence fennel bulbs are used in salads or as the main ingredient in a
Lavender-(P)- The whole flower spikes are cut just before the
florets are fully open and when color and fragrance are at their best.
Uses: Lavender is most often used in sachets, perfumes, and potpourris.
Lovage-(P)- Harvest young, tender leaves and use fresh. You
can dry or freeze the leaves for later use.
Uses: Use the celery-flavored herb in soups, stews, potato
salads, meat and vegetable dishes. It can also be eaten raw like celery. Its seeds are
sometimes used in salads, candies, breads and cakes.
Marjoram, Sweet-(A)- Cut back to 1 inch above the ground just
before flowering; a second crop will form for later use. Easily dried or frozen.
Uses: Use Marjoram leaves with meat, poultry, vegetable dishes (especially green beans),
potato salad, and egg dishes.
Mints-(P)- Harvest before flowering and use fresh or dried.
Cut off near ground level. A second cutting can be harvested later on.
Uses: Used primarily for flavoring. The leaves are often put into teas and other
beverages, as well as lamb sauces and jellies.
Oregano-(P)- Harvest and dry before flowering occurs.
Uses: Oregano imparts a sharper flavor than Sweet Marjoram. It is used to season spaghetti
tomato dishes. Its flowers are attractive in summer arrangements.
Parsley-(B)- Snip young leaves just above ground level, as
Uses: Use as a garnish in soups, salads, meats, and poultry.
Rosemary-(TP)- Harvest the young, tender stems and leaves,
but avoid taking off more than one-third of the plant at one time. For drying, harvest
just before the plant flowers.
Uses: A gourmet seasoning for meats, poultry dishes, and potatoes. Use either fresh or
Sage-(P)- Harvest when just starting to flower and use either
fresh or dried.
Uses: A commonly used seasoning for meats, stuffing, soups, and salads.
Summer Savory-(A)- You can gather young stem tips early, but
when the plant begins to flower, harvest the entire plant and dry.
Uses: Used to flavor fresh garden beans, vinegars, soups, stuffings, and rice.
Tarragon, French-(P)- Harvest tarragon in June for steeping in
vinegar. For drying, harvest in early to mid-July.
Uses: Often used in various sauces such as tartar and white sauce, and for making herb
Thyme-(P)- Put leafy stem ends and flowers when plants are at
the full-flowering stage. Use fresh, hang-dry, or freeze.
Uses: Used in combination with other herbs. Leaves can be used with meats, soups, sauces,
and egg dishes.
Used with permission from Michigan State University Extension
| Visit Lesley's
Spice Rack where you'll find the difference
between herbs and spices plus information on all the common