Fortunately, others have more extensive knowledge about the use of herbs than I do. Linn County Master Gardener, Diane Kay Packingham, passes along the following about the best ways to harvest and dry herbs:
So we spent the summer growing Herbs in the garden - so what do I do with what is ready to harvest? Most herbs can be cut and used fresh throughout the growing season. Fresh is the best way to use herbs as well since the smell and taste of fresh herbs is truly the best. But with the end of the growing season nearing, it’s time to harvest the leaves, flower and seeds of many herbs.
Iowa State University Extension has some terrific information about how to harvest and dry herbs. ISU’s Richard Jauron suggests that herbs, such as sage, rosemary and basil, are harvested for their leaves. These herbs should be gathered before flowers open, keeping in mind to remove approximately 1/3 of the current year’s growth on perennial herbs, while annual herbs can be cut back more severely. Make the cuts on perennials approximately 4 to 6 inches above the soil surface (a bit more if your herb is quite large.) The annuals can actually be cut at ground level when harvesting in the fall before the first frost.
Herbs should be harvested before the plant flowers. The best time to harvest is in the early morning. When harvesting, rinse the herbs in cool water, shake, and dry off using paper towels. Air drying is a good way to dry herbs. Tie the ends of the stems together, using a rubber band since it flexes easily during the drying process. A brown paper bag can also be used to cover the herbs, to protect the herbs from insects, and to collect the seeds or leaves that fall off. Hang herbs stem upside down, in an area that is 70-80 F without direct sunlight. Herbs should take approximately 2 weeks to dry. Once dry remove leaves and store in an airtight container in cool, dry place. Take care when air drying to not contaminate herbs with household sprays and keep any pesky bugs away.
Herbs can also be air dried by placing leaves in a single layer on a fine mesh screen or cheesecloth such as a window screen. Make sure there is air circulation around leaves and stems, but not wind that might stir and scatter leaves during the drying process.
The oven can also be used to dry herbs. Place the herbs on a shallow pan or cookie sheet in a single layer, place in a 180-degree oven 3 to 4 hours. Stir and check herbs frequently so they dry evenly and do not burn.
Small amounts of herbs can be dried using the Microwave. Place the herbs on a paper towel, and cover with another paper towel. Set on high to dry for 1-3 minutes. Microwave drying requires experimentation with herbs because of the various differences with microwaves. Home dehydrators are also an option if you plan to dry large batches of herbs.
Growing, harvesting and drying herbs is great fun and a wonderful way to know where your herbs have been, how the plants where grown and that no added ingredients are in the herbs. But don’t forget, airtight containers are important for storing herbs.
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