by Jim Linwood
You have watched the home herb garden you planted flourish and grow. You can use these herbs for so many things. However, before using them you have a bit of work to do. Before your herbs are used, you will need to harvest them and timing is a big factor. You want to preserve the essential oils of your herbs as much as possible. To accomplish this you want to choose a dry and calm morning as heat and wind will disperse these precious oils. Midsummer mornings are probably best and avoid wet days as the herbs produce fewer oils in this climate. Right before the flowers open and after the dew has dried from the leaves, you should harvest your herbs.
Your first step of course will be to harvest your herbs for use. Timing is the most important factor in harvesting. To preserve herbs and their essential oils you should choose a calm and dry morning. Midsummer is probably the best time and remember that fewer oils are produced during extremely wet days.You will want to harvest your home herb garden after the dew has dried and just before the flowers open. Keep in mind harvesting is not completely removing the plant but just taking the small amount you need. Harvest time does not necessarily mean you must use the herbs immediately. Preserve herbs and use them when you want. It is a good idea to never take more than a third of the plants leaves in one harvest. Herbs need adequate foliage to continue to grow. When you prepare to harvest your home herb garden, remember to check for bugs, parasites or damage first.
You have basically three options for preserving herbs, drying, freezing or preserving in salt or vinegar. Drying is probably the most popular method to preserve herbs and is done by bundling 6-12 stems and removing the low-lying foliage. You can then secure your bundle with a string. Choose a cool location away from sunlight in which to hang the bundle. If you would rather dry only the leaves, you can put them on a rack or a screen. This method requires you to turn them often to ensure proper drying. Microwaves, dehydrators and ovens are becoming a very popular method to preserve herbs as well, though appliances are less satisfactory.
Another easy way to preserve herbs is by freezing them. Start by cutting your herbs into 1/4-inch pieces and put them on a cookie sheet line with waxed paper. Freeze them in this manner and once they are preserved you can place them in a freezer bag and use them at your convenience.
Finally, you can preserve herbs from your garden in a preservative. For example, you can place herbs such as tarragon, mint or basil in vinegar to preserve it up to several months. Flavored salt is also a favorite method to preserve herbs. You can place salt and herbs in alternating layers and allow the herbs to dry. Simply remove the herbs from the salt and then store in a container that is airtight.
Fresh herbs can spice up any recipe and many people choose to use them right out of their home herb garden. When you want to use fresh herbs, it is important that you rinse them very well to remove debris and pests. The simplest way to clean your herbs is to place them in a cool bowl of water or for cases where you have a large amount of herbs you can use the sink. Add a couple of tablespoons of salt to the mix, which will force out any hidden pests but not harm the herb. Once your herbs are clean, you can remove them from the water and use a salad spinner to dry them.
Herbs have a multitude of uses and purposes. Each specific herb will have specific harvest, use and chopping instructions so you will want to research them carefully. This way you will know you are handling and using them correctly.