Harvesting Herbs

Whether you're harvesting herbs to cook just from a window box or reaping from a large herb garden, the rules on what, when and how remain the same.

Remember your dream of helping out a friend who's having a bad hair day, or was it to give a healing potion to the Aunty with the nasty carbuncle? Well, using the right tools and learning what to do with the produce to preserve it are necessary steps for that worthy goal to come true.

Time For Harvesting Herbs

The time for harvesting herbs is obviously dependant on what you are growing and what you want from each type of herb.

Much of it though will be gleaned from around May through to August, June being the most concentrated month for harvesting herb leaves. Think liqueurs, lavender biscuits and sheer self-indulgence!

Bay leaves can be picked as early as March but keep this to a minimum, the days of ancient Olympia have long gone!

If the bush is young and needs to grow a bit before it can be clipped into shape, you don't need to win any race, go easy on the pickings.

Wild strawberries are a favourite of mine! The flowers and even fruit can appear as early as April, but it's the leaves we are interested in at this time. Pick them for an infusion of medicinal tea or dry them for potpourri.

When May arrives the lemon balm should look lush. Plucking off leaves regularly for a calming and refreshing tea will keep it busy and bushy.

After the early Spring pruning of sage, its growth should be substantial enough to start picking for regular use in tasty recipes. My tongue is just drooling over all this foody talk! So in May think about harvesting the leaves of lemon balm, sage, and wild strawberry.

June is the month when the real harvesting starts to occur. Especially the leaves when they are at their best just before the plant flowers, or particularly with some herbs, when the flowers start to bloom. All herbs can be harvested at this time.

Flowers too can be dried. Pick opened lavender, thyme, nasturtium, marigold, chamomile, borage, pennyroyal and other flowers before they “blouse” or turn brown.

As the weather heats up so do we so it's a relief for the activity to die back a little in July Nevertheless, all herbs should be regularly harvested.

The fruit of the wild strawberry will be ripening ready for picking. To save some for the jar you need quite a big crop as they are a tiny fruit.

French marigold, lavender, rose, German chamomile, hyssop, and cotton lavender will be in full bloom. Pick them for drying. You will also notice the nasturtiums are producing seeds. If you want to pickle them, pick them now when they are still green.

I have noticed that some of my herbs are flowering and producing fruit early due to erratic weather patterns. This will happen more and more because of climate change. The wise thing to do is to go ahead with harvesting herbs when they are ready regardless if they are out of season.

Tone down picking leaves but continue dead-heading some flowers when August arrives keeping in mind what we just mentioned above. Pick herb leaves as you need them.

It's time to concentrate on gathering seeds such as coriander, ripe nasturtium, poppy, sunflower. The wild strawberries will still be rewarding you, but do leave some for the birds.

In its second year, the root of the valerian can now be dug up and dried.

As we move into September lambs lettuce will be ready for harvesting if you sowed during the summer months. Pick the young leaves to keep it producing new fresh ones.

Herbs like rosemary and sage can be picked but sparingly as their growth will be slowing down towards the dormant months. Still the wild strawberries are giving you their fruit. Be thankful! Continue to dig up valerian root and start digging up the garlic.

During October harvest leaves from mint, parsley, and basil. The rosemary and sage still have something to give so count your blessings.

The winter has drawn nigh but still there are gleanings to be had even in November although very little. Look to the bay and chervil for alms.

Well into the winter, during the months of December, January and February harvesting herbs is almost at a standstill. Only evergreens and protected salad greens can be harvested now.

Tools For Harvesting Herbs

Having an array of harvesting equipment clean and ready make gathering easier and help save your crops from spoiling. So what are the necessities?

Tiered drying nets are used to keep air circulating while your herbs dry. If you use one it will prevent the herbs developing mold.

Trugs are not a necessity but because they are roomy you don't tend to pile on the herbs as you gather them. This stops them from bruising and spoiling.

Buy or make your own large sieve from mesh wire tacked onto a wooden frame. This makes washing soil from roots and drying them easier.

Clean and sharpen secateurs and wear clean gardening gloves to prevent disease.

Use paper envelopes to collect seeds and label them for dry storage.

Preserving Your Harvest

There are many ways to preserve your harvest. You don't need to keep it all to yourself either. Give them to friends as a home grown gift which are nearly always appreciated!

You can freeze, dry, or even freeze-dry them. Make herb vinegars, oils, and butters, or biscuits and jam.

Cordials and wines will go down a treat while wands, pillows and potpourri sweeten the air. Last but least look after your health by making herbal soaps, skin creams and lotions.

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