THE HERBAL HARVEST
By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
An herb is any plant that is used in whole or part as an ingredient for flavor or fragrance. To get the most out of herbs, harvest them at their peak of freshness and store or preserve them properly.
Harvest herbs when the soils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. The timing depends on what plant part is being harvested and its intended use.
Most herbs are cultivated for their foliage and should be harvested just before the flower buds open. Although herbs such as chives are quite attractive in bloom, flowering can cause the foliage to develop an off-flavor. Many herbs, especially parsley, chives, mint, and oregano, can be harvested continually for fresh use beginning as soon as the plant has enough foliage to sustain growth. Harvest herbs grown for seeds--dill, caraway, coriander, and cumin, for example--as the fruits change color from green to brown or gray but before they scatter to the ground.
Collect herb flowers such as borage and chamomile just before full flowering. Harvest herb roots including bloodroot, chicory, ginseng, and golden seal in the fall, after the foliage fades. Just be sure to mark the plants before the foliage drops, so you don't forget where they are located. You can harvest fragrant herbs and dry them for pot pourri.
If you don't intend to use herbs immediately, drying is the most common way to preserve them. Tie leafy herbs with long stems in bunches and hang to air dry.
Rinse dust and soil from foliage, shake off excess water, and remove dead or damaged leaves. Then hang upside down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated place. To preserve foliage color, avoid drying in sunlight. Enclose seed heads in paper bags to catch seeds as they fall.
An old-fashioned method of preservation is to salt-cure by placing herbs between layers of coarse grade or regular table salt. Seal the drying salt in an airtight container such as a glass jar or plastic tub. Salt-drying preserves herbs for future use as well as produces herb-flavored salt that can be used as a seasoning in cooking.
After the harvest, prepare perennial herbs for winter by cutting plants back to the ground. Mulch if tender, like lavender.