As fall arrives and you can feel the season making a shift, you may need to cut back your garden and start to get it ready for bed. And if you are growing herbs, this is the perfect time to capture all the flavors and fragrances in the foliage and preserve it for your winter use!
It is easy to do!
Just harvest any of your herbs like rosemary, thyme, tarragon, lavender or sage and dry them following the instructions below. Then during the winter months, when your fresh herb choices are very limited, your dried herbs will be a welcome return to your bountiful summer scents and flavors. The only herbs that do not hold their flavor well dried are basil, chives and parsley. They are always best fresh.
How to Harvest
The best time to harvest herbs is when the plant is about to flower. This is when they have the highest essential oil content. But in the fall, they are probably long past flowering and that is okay. Just harvest on a dry day, preferable in the morning before the heat of the day hits them. Cut small bundles and attach a rubber band to the stem end. Keep the bundles fairly small so that air can circulate between the stems. (Large bundles can mildew in the center.)
As the stems dry, they tend to shrink and the rubber band will shrink with them, preventing the bundles from falling apart. Hang the bundles in a warm, dry area, out of direct sunlight. If you are collecting the herbs for seeds, place the bundles inside paper bags with cut ends sticking out of the top. The bag will allow air to circulate, but will collect any seed that fall out during drying.
Your herbs should dry within 7-10 days. When the leaves are completely dry, they will be crisp and brittle (like corn flakes). At this point, strip the leaves from the branches and place them in clean glass containers with tight-fitting lids. Be sure to label and date the containers. After a few days, check the jars to make sure that no moisture is visible inside. If there is moisture, the herbs were not completely dry and you need to remove them, spread them on a cookie sheet and let them have more time to dry.
For the best flavor and fragrance, dried herbs should be used within one year. And you know those dried stems? I don’t throw them away. I use them as fire starters for my winter fires. Don’t want any of that wonderful harvest to go to waste!