Harvesting and Storing Herbs

HARVESTING YOUR HERBS

Harvesting herbs will promote new growth, so is to be encouraged. There are a few rules to ensure you get the best harvest possible:

  • Always harvest from clean healthy plant material
  • Pick small amounts at a time to keep the plant healthy
  • Flowering herbs are in their peak condition just before flowering so pick then, unless it’s the flowers you want
  • Try and harvest herbs in the morning on a dry day and after the dew has done
  • Annual herbs such as Coriander, Basil can usually be harvested two or three times in a season
  • Perennial Herbs such as Rosemary, Sage after the first year can be harvested throughout the year
  • Flowers for drying are usually picked in bud
  • Roots are usually harvested in the autumn at the end of the growing season
  • When harvesting roots it is not necessary to destroy the whole plant, just cut away what you need and replant the plant.

PRESERVING YOUR HERBS

There are several methods for preserving and storing Herbs that can easily be carried out at home, with little if any specialist equipment.

Drying Herbs

  • Herbs can be air dried, a technique used in many countries
  • The ideal place is dry and well ventilated, free from dust and fumes
  • An airing cupboard, an attic or under the eaves are all good places
  • Do NOT dry herbs in the sun as this will evaporate all the precious volatile oils
  • A constant temperature of 20o- 32o C is ideal
  • Speed is of the essence
  • Herbs are dried when they can be crushed easily between two fingers

NOTE: If the herbs turn black or go mouldy then throw them away as the drying process has failed and the herbs are not worth keeping

Oven Drying Herbs

  • Generally recommended for roots as they can tolerate the higher temperatures
  • Place clean and dry roots on a baking tray and dry at 50 o – 60o C for between 2-3 hours depending upon the amount and size of herbs you are drying

Microwave Drying

  • Care has to be taken when drying herbs in a microwave
  • Generally it takes about 1-4 minutes to dry approximately 10 sprigs of herbs, depending upon the type of herb , small leaved herbs such as thyme take less time
  • It is very easy to overcook herbs using this method
  • NEVER dry Sage using this method as it ignites!

Storing Dried Herbs

  • When the herbs are quite dry they should be packed into containers, labelled and dated
  • Use containers that are just large enough for the herbs, to reduce the chance of them absorbing moisture from the atmosphere
  • It is better to store dried herbs in a dark cupboard as light destroys the quality of the herb
  • The shelf life of dried herbs is generally about 12 months, if they smell musty then throw them away

NOTE: There are a number of purpose made Dehydrators that can be bought for drying all types of food. Herbs dry particularly well in these

Freezing Herbs

Freezing is an excellent method for storing herbs as it helps retain colour, flavour and nutritional content. There are two ways to freeze herbs:

  • Place a small amount of herbs in a bag and place in the freezer, there is no need to thaw , just use the amount needed directly
  • Place finely chopped herbs in an ice-cube tray and top up with water. Each ice cube hold about 1 tablespoon of herbs and a teaspoon of water

NOTE: Individual herb flowers, such as borage, Lavender or leaves such as mint can all be frozen in individual cubes to add flavour and interest to summer drinks

HERBAL OILS & VINEGARS

Herbs have been preserved in oils and vinegars for centuries. Herb Oils and Vinegars can be used in salads, sauces, dressings and marinades. Herb Oils and Vinegars can be made with some basic equipment and can look attractive if you can find some old bottles to store the oils and vinegars.

Herbal Oils

  • Loosely fill a clean glass jar ( Kilner type is best) with the herb of your choice and fill with good quality oil – olive or sunflower
  • Leave the jar in a sunny place for at least two weeks, shaking daily
  • Strain the contents to remove the herbs and fill clean bottles, adding a sprig of the herb for identification, although it’s best to label and date as well
  • A variety of herbs are suitable to make oils: Basil, Rosemary, Dill, Lemon Thyme, Fennel, Sage

NOTE: Care must always be taken when making herbal oils as there is a risk of Botulism – a rare but serious form of food poisoning. If the herbs look mouldy in the oil, throw it away and start again.

Herbal Vinegars

  • Made in much the same way as the oils. It is best to first slightly crush the herbs before placing in the clean jar
  • Never use a jar with a metal lid, as the vinegar will corrode the lid and this will taint the contents
  • After two weeks, strain the herbs and place the vinegar in clean bottles, with a sprig of herb for identification
  • A variety of herbs can be used to make vinegars: Sage, Tarragon, Garlic,

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