Let’s face it; planting herbs in your garden and watching them grow is one thing, but actually being able to use them requires a little bit more work on your part.
Before you can actually make use of the herbs, you will need to get them harvested. This can be a bit harder than it sounds because you have to choose the right time. The best time is in midsummer, preferably on a dry day. The problem is that wind and heat can nullify the essential oils that the herb is known for, meaning that they simply will not be very effective. When you harvest the herbs, you don’t need to take the entire plant out of the ground. You take what you need from it, and make sure that the herb continues to grow in the ground. To avoid damaging the plant, you will want to take less than a third of the plant out at a time. Before you harvest, check the plant and make sure it has not sustained damage of any kind.
Generally speaking, there are three ways which people use in order to preserve the herbs they harvest. Most people will either end up drying them, freezing them, or preserving them in salt or vinegar. If you choose to dry them, then you should ideally bundle at least six to twelve stems together, taking care to remove any leaves which are near the base of the stems. You can then hang the bundles up in a cool area, out of direct sunlight. If you intend only drying the individual leaves, you’ll need to arrange them on a screen, and you’ll need to remember to turn them from time to time in order for them to dry out uniformly. There are some people who use various appliances in order to dry out their herbs, but it’s always better to do it the original way instead. Of course, you can also choose to freeze your herbs, in which case you can cut them into pieces measuring about a quarter of an inch prior to placing them on a lined baking sheet. Once they’re frozen you can then gather the pieces up and place them together in a bag or other suitable container, which can then be kept in your freezer until you’re ready to use it. The third way to preserve herbs is by chopping them up and then covering them with vinegar. Herbs such as mint, basil or tarragon are particularly well suited to this method, although of course you can also use them to make some flavored salt. In that case, you would simply place the chopped herbs between layers of salt, and when the herbs are completely dry, you can then remove them from the salt, and store the salt in an airtight container.
Even though herbs are so easy to preserve, many people prefer using them fresh from the garden, in which case it’s important to make sure that they are clean before being added to recipes. To clean freshly picked herbs, simply place them in a container of cool water together with one or two tablespoons of salt. Essentially, the salt will help to ensure that there are no insects left behind on the herbs, and of course the salt won’t cause any damage. After allowing them to soak for a few minutes you can remove them and dry them.
Remember, not all herbs are the same, and as such, most will have their own set of instructions with regards to how they should be harvested, prepared, and/or preserved. To fully understand how you can benefit the most from the herbs you’re growing, you should make a point of learning as much as you can about each specific type.