How to Harvest, Dry, Freeze and Store Herbs

Once you learn how to grow your own herbs at home. The next things you should learn are how to harvest, dry, freeze and store herbs.

This allows you to keep them as fresh as possible for a long period of time.

In this article, I’ll discuss how to harvest and store herbs for the short and long term

 

How to Harvest & Store Herbs

Now for the fun part!

All the work you put in (and the patience) is now paying off.

Your herbs are growing. And finally, it’s time to harvest.

 

Harvesting Herbs

With herbs, it’s important to understand that different herbs are best harvested at different times. Also, when you harvest likewise differs depending on which part of the plant you want to use. Of course, the latter is often based on what you plan on using it for.

 

Leaves and Stems

Leaves are by far the most popular part of herbs to harvest. In fact, most people grow herbs specifically for their leaves.

The best time to harvest foliage is before the herb flowers.

Harvesting them is similar to pruning or pinching, you want to cut above the node. This way, they don’t look ugly. And, more importantly, doing so encourages new growth.

 

Flowers

An herb’s flowers are mostly harvested for medicinal purposes, teas and culinary uses. Chamomile and borage of two of the most popular ones here.

For these, you want to wait right up to the time they’re about to open. That’s when their essential oils are at their peak. As a result, their scent, flavor and healing properties are at their highest as well.

Here, all you need to do is cut the flower including a little of the stem.

 

Seeds

If you watch a lot of cooking shows or experiment with flavors in the kitchen, you’re aware of the many herbal seeds available.

Among the popular ones are:

  • Caraway
  • Dill
  • Coriander
  • Anise

But, there are more.

Seeds start to form after pollination happens and the flower’s petals fade. You’ll know it’s time to collect them when the seeds ripen. The signal for this is when their pods turn from green in color to brown, black or gray.

Once you get them, place each kind in a separate bag and label it. This makes them easy to identify later on.

 

Roots

Unlike some of the other parts, roots are best harvested during the fall. Once the herb’s leaves go away, you can start going to work. Roots are most potent during this period.

Another option would be during the spring before the growing season begins.

As you would expect, harvesting roots also takes more work. You need to dig it up in order to get to the root mass.

After you do, you have two options.

  • If you want to put it back in after to grow again, you’ll need to replant it after cutting away a section of it
  • If you don’t plan on replanting it, you can skip putting it back into the ground

 

Herbs Grown for Their Roots
  • Ginger
  • Horseradish
  • Angelica
  • Ginseng
  • Dandelion
  • Chicory
  • Goldenseal
  • Bloodroot
  • Comfrey
  • Valerian
  • soapwort

 

How to Dry, Freeze & Store Herbs

After harvesting your herbs, you have a few choices:

  • Use them fresh
  • Dry them
  • Store them away for another day
  • Freeze them

 

Related

 

How to Use Fresh Herbs

If you’re going to use herbs for cooking, the best way to do so is when they’re fresh. You’ve probably seen those TV chefs do this. They pick the herbs right out of the garden or their indoor garden and immediately use it as an ingredient in their recipe.

This lets you skip the supermarket packed herbs altogether.

In addition to sprinkling them right over your salad, as garnish or flavoring for meats, you can likewise use them to add flavor to oils, butter, vinegar and honey.

 

How to Store Herbs for the Short-Term

If you aren’t going to immediately use the herbs, here are a couple of ways to store them in the short term.

It is worth noting that herbs quickly lose their flavor and fragrance after picking.

 

In Water

The simplest way to store herbs for the short-term is to put them in a glass of water. Like stem cutting, this works for those with long stems.

You can do this just like you put flowers in water.

This will allow you to keep the herbs fresh for about 5-7 days.

 

In the Refrigerator

Another option is to put them in the refrigerator along with the vegetables. The cold environment will help preserve its freshness for a short period (up to a little more than a week).

One way to help them keep their flavor is to wrap them in a damp paper towel.

 

How to Dry Herbs

If you want to store them for longer periods, drying is a good option. Drying helps preserve the flavor. And, it lets you keep the herbs for 2-3 years. Although, using them within 12 months is ideal.

Drying also lets you decide what you want to do with the herbs when the time comes.

It’s worth noting that for most herbs, drying leaves them with less flavor compared to fresh ones.

But doing it properly allows you to produce far more flavorful ones than those you find in stores.

Additionally, you know exactly where they came from. And, that there were no chemicals or additives used in the process.

Here’s how to dry herbs at home.

 

Hanging Herbs

You’ve probably come across shops or even images in photos or movies where you see herbs hanging from strings.

That’s exactly what this is.

Hanging is an effective way of drying herbs as long as you know what you’re doing. The most important factor of which is choosing the right environment.

To achieve the best results, you want somewhere that’s:

  • Clean. You’re likely going to use some of it for cooking, right? So, it makes sense not to leave in in unsanitary places. This includes tool sheds, attics and basements where dirt and dust abound.
  • Dry (not humid environment). As such, kitchens, bathrooms and the outdoors aren’t good options unless you set up a dehumidifier, at least for the first 2 areas.
  • Has Good Ventilation. Ventilation allows air to circulate. Additionally, it prevents moisture from accumulating.
  • Over time, light from the sun causes herbs to lose their color. It also causes them to lose their oils.
  • Warm. Warm conditions help the herbs to dry quicker. 80-85 degrees works well. But, don’t get tempted to go too high. Temperatures above 90 degrees will cause the herbs to deteriorate in quality.

Additionally, start the process as soon as you can after picking them. This helps retain as much flavor as possible.

Also, when hanging make sure to keep them separate. While you can hang them in bundles don’t overcrowd them. The number of stems per bundle will vary depending on how big the herbs are.

Ideally, you want to keep the bundles 6 inches apart.

All you need is a hook and twine and somewhere to hang them in (that fits the conditions above).

 

Using a Drying Rack

Some herbs are difficult to hang because of the size, shape or texture of their stems. Similarly, hanging doesn’t work for seeds, flowers, and leaves.

For these, a drying rack is a better option.

You can buy a drying rack from the store. Or, you can make one yourself.

All you need is a wooden square or rectangular frame and some kind of screen to allow the moisture to go through. You can use window screens or cheesecloth among other things.

From there, all you need to do is lay the herbs down in single layer.

Within 1-2 weeks you’ll have dried herbs.

The exact time will depend on what kind of herbs, which part you’re drying and the conditions where you live.

 

Other Drying Methods

In addition to the two, you can likewise use modern technology to get the work done. But, from experience, these don’t retain the herb’s flavor as well, albeit they’re much faster and more convenient to do.

  • Microwave oven
  • Oven
  • Dehydrator
  • Refrigerator

 

Best Herbs for for Drying
  • Basil
  • Bay leaf
  • Dill
  • Lemon balm
  • Lemon verbena
  • Lovage
  • Mint
  • Mints
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

 

How to Freeze Herbs

Some herbs look ugly when they’re dried. Similarly, other herbs break apart when dried.

If that’s the case, then freezing is another option for preservation.

Once again, like all the storing techniques here, it’s important to experiment. That’s because different herbs behave differently.

As a result, you can’t generalize their results.

Freezing herbs helps extend “freshness” up to 6-8 months. Like meat, it’s not a good idea to re-freeze them once you pull them out.

The process is fairly straightforward.

  • After picking them, wash then pat dry. This ensures they’re clean before going into the freezer.
  • Place them in a pan as a single layer
  • Once they freeze, put them in a plastic bag
  • Place them back in the freezer
  • Take out what you need when you want to use them

 

Best Herbs for Freezing

  • Basil
  • Borage
  • Chervi
  • Chives
  • Cilantro
  • Dill
  • Dill weed
  • Dillweed
  • Fennel
  • Garlic
  • Lemongrass
  • Lovage
  • Marjoram
  • Mint
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Sorrel
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme

 

Conclusion

Like vegetable gardening, growing herbs is tremendously rewarding. You can use them for flavoring your home cooked meals, aromatherapy, create your own essential oils and many more.

Best of all, they’re easy to care for and you don’t need a lot of space for your herb garden.