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How and When to Harvest Herbs

One of the many nice things about herbs is that, unlike fruits and vegetables that ripen and are harvested once, if you snip and trim your herb plants, they will continue to produce all throughout the growing season.

In fact, they do far better with regular trimmings to stop them from becoming too 'leggy' and flowering.


Just one basil plant can keep you in pesto all year and leave enough for you to share with the chickens as well.

But when should you harvest your herbs? How do you harvest them? And then what do you do with them once they're cut? Well, I'll share what I do.

Harvesting

Trim plants in the early morning, after the dew has dried off the leaves but before the heat of the day. This is the prime picking window. You can use a pair of herb snips or your fingers.

The water-based herbs such as basil, dill, parsley and the like are easily pinched with your fingers, some of the 'woodier' herbs like lavender, rosemary and thyme are easier to pick using scissors.


Snip or pinch off the tips of the branches just above a set of leaves. This ensures your plants will grow out nice and full and bushy instead of tall and lanky. As a general rule, take only 1/4 of any one branch to allow the plant to continue to thrive and branch out.

Trim herbs before they flower. This ensures maximum flavor. However, if you are trying to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds to your garden, and feeding the herbs to your chickens (instead of making your prize-winning pesto!), by all means let some flowers bloom.

The beneficial nectar-loving bugs will thank you - and so many of the herbs do have beautiful flowers.


Choose nice, large leaves. If you're merely picking a few leaves here and there, choose the largest and leave the smaller to grow a bit more.


Drying


Remove the leaves from the stems and discard the stems.

Brush off any dirt. You don't want to rinse off the leaves. This can lead to molding instead of drying.


Dry what you've picked.

Most herbs air dry quite quickly when spread out on a kitchen towel or paper towels laid over a wire rack, hanging them in bunches, or you can make a tiered herb drying rack like the one I use.

You can also spread the leaves in a single layer and dry them in the oven on the lowest setting or use a dehydrator.  Freezing herbs also works well, either alone in plastic baggies or in ice cube trays of olive oil (of course your intended future use dictates whether or not you want the herbs in olive oil!)


Turn the leaves occasionally (if air drying) to be sure they dry completely and evenly.

Crush the leaves with your fingers when the leaves are completely dry and store them in a sealed container in a cool, dark location. They should be used within about a year for maximum flavor. 

(Note: If you have the space, leave the leaves whole and crush them just before using. They will retain more flavor and last longer.)

Using your Dried Herbs

I use fresh and dried herbs in many aspects of my chicken keeping. Here are some of my favorites ways to use herbs (fresh or dried can be interchanged in any of these ideas):


Of course, fresh and dried herbs are a must in any kitchen to boost the flavor of your favorite dishes. I'd love to hear your favorite herbs and how you use them!

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