Ten Easy Tips
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Although these herbs may have medicinal value, it is not advised to use them as such. Any herb used for medicinal purposes should be purchased from a reliable source as a STANDARDIZED product.
- Basic Tips
Snip herbs all summer long to use for culinary purposes. Cut only 1/3 of the plant at any one time. As the herb gets larger, 1/3 will produce a lot of herb leaves. Remember to use only the leaves because stems can be bitter. Cut and dispose of yellowed or otherwise diseased leaves. Use only untarnished herbs for culinary use. If you are picking chives, avoid cutting off the tops because they will not re-grow as well as cutting what you will use at the bottom of the spike, leaving about an inch of the stem. The chive stem left will re-grow.
- Picking Time
Pick herbs in the morning after the dew has evaporated from the leaves, but before high noon, when volatile oils of the herb are at their peak. For flowering herbs, always cut just before the plant begins to flower. If flowers are allowed to bloom, energy from the plant will go into producing flowers instead of flavor.
- Mint and Basil
Cut mint and basil frequently because they will bush out. If left alone, they will grow into long, leggy plants. Cut just above a leaf and never in the middle of a stem. For the best growth possible, pinch back flowers frequently, especially on basil plants that struggle to flower all summer long. For an annual herb like basil, flowering signals the end of a season. Pinching back will extend the growing season.
- Cutting Hardware
A flower cutter works best for harvesting. Scissors may seem to work OK, but they pinch the stem of the herb. A tool made to cut plants that has been designed for a clean cut will give you the best results.
- Drying Tips
Pick whole branches when you are going to dry herbs. Use a rubber band to tie a bunch together and place a paper bag over them to keep out dust. Hang them in a dry, warm place with circulating air, such as a garage with rafters. Herbs must be clean before drying. Either gently wash them with spray from a garden hose the day before harvesting or wash before drying. If herbs are washed the day of drying, make certain they are thoroughly dry from the washing before hanging to dry. Damp herbs will become musty and even get moldy. When dry, you will be able to crumble the herbs in your hand.
When you are drying flowers, remove all the leaves from the branches, make loose bunches with rubber bands, and hang upside down to dry as any other herb. Leaves left on flower stems will slow the drying process.
- Seed Drying
For drying the seeds of herbs such as dill, fennel, and caraway, hang the entire branch from the stem and put a big paper bag under the seed heads, so as the seeds dry they will drop into the bag.
Store whole herbs in glass containers (plastic containers are not recommended) until ready to use. Powdered herbs do not retain their scent as well as whole herbs. When a recipe calls for an herb you are storing, simply remove leaves from the stem and crush before you add them to your dish.
- Storage Time
For maximum flavor, keep herbs for no longer than six months. Although homegrown herbs retain their flavor much longer, even up to a year, six months is a good rule of thumb. In the end, you will be the judge on how long your herbs can be stored before they lose flavor. Storing your herbs in a dark, cool, place will help retain their flavor.
- More Preserving Tips
Herbs may also be dried in the microwave oven at 1 to 2 minutes on high. It is best to experiment with this because some herbs dry better than others, and drying times will vary. Herbs may also be frozen for use in cooking. Basil may be preserved in olive oil in the freezer or frozen as pesto. Preserving herbs in oil at room temperature or in the refrigerator is not recommended. An easy method of preserving flavor is herb-flavored vinegar. Start with wine vinegar and crushed herb leaves. French tarragon, garlic, and dill work well for flavor, and chive flowers and purple basil will color the vinegar. Fill a quart-sized bottle and set aside for about two weeks or until the desired flavor has been attained. Strain and pour into sterile bottles, and cork or cover. Use as regular vinegar. Herb butter is also very nice. Chop the herbs and mix with butter into the shape of your choice and refrigerate or freeze. Herb sugar is also nice for a change. Try flavoring with a lemon scented herb or one of the mints. Always flavor food with edible herbs.
- Herb Flowers for Drying
|Alliums||Garlic, chives, leeks, garlic chives - all of these herbs have very dryable and interesting balls of blooms|
|Artemisia||This group of silverty-gray plants will dry nicely for flower arrangements|
|Bee Balm||No scent, but red or lavender spiky blooms are very pretty|
|Clary Sage||Very strong scent and an interesting plant to grow. It's good for closets or other places needing air enhancement|
|Costmary||Yellow balls dry with a sweet scent|
|Lambs-Ears||The soft, gray, velvety leaves with spikes of silvery stems and pale pink flowers are excellent for wreath building.|
|Lavender||Dry before full bloom for the best scent|
|Mint||Flowers dry beautifully with many scents to choose from|
|Oregano||Nicely scented attractive flowers on long stems|
|Pineapple||Scented delicate red flowers and very scented leaves|
|Roses||Like Lavender, dry before the full bloom|
|Sage||Very pretty flowers that retain their scent when dried|
|Santolina||ellow balls with an interesting scent|
|Tansy||Very similar to Santolina|
|Yarrow||There are several pastel shades to the flowers on this herb|