Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Harvesting and Preserving Herbs

There is a romance around picking little snippets of herbs from one's garden and carrying them directly into the kitchen for that evening's dinner or that special Sunday morning's omelet. We use some of the herbs in our garden this way, especially in early spring when the chives appear as the first edible in our yard, and in midsummer when basil and parsely are at their best. Most of the herbs in my garden though get picked and preserved for year-round use.

Right now I am harvesting the perennial herbs. Last year Adam took a large raised bed from our back yard and rebuilt it into two small beds for the side yard. The side yard of the house is south-facing and, unlike our back yard, is free of trees whose roots compete for water and nutrients. I put several small oregano, thyme, and sage plants in last fall. This spring I added chamomile, savory, and mint plants. When I put them in the ground each plant was tiny, the kind of plant that costs $4 at the garden center. The plants love the new location and are now bushes, jostling each other for space. I've decided to cut them back pretty severely. I really put too many plants into the beds, as most perennial herbs are what my mother-in-law refers to as "dreadful spreaders" and they like space to spread out. I am hoping that by harvesting the majority of the leaves from each plant I can leave the plants with enough to winter over, but not so much that they try to spread too far. I don't have a lot of planting space, but would like to grow a variety of herbs.

There are many different techniques for drying herbs. I prefer to dry the perennial herbs. I am much mroe likely to use them dried than frozen, and I don't feel that they suffer much loss in flavor. Today I washed all the herbs I picked, wrapped them in a linen tablecloth and squeezed the water out, and then laid them out on another table cloth in my air-conditioned dining room. Tomorrow I will tie them into bundles and hang them in a closet to dry completely. Some people don't call for washing herbs before drying, but we live in an urban area. So I feel it's important to wash off the dust and dirt.

Today I picked sage, oregano, and savory. Once these are tied up I'll pick the mint, thyme, and chamomile. A little later in the summer I'll pick my annual herbs, basil, parsley, and scallions, and I'll freeze them.


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