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Harvesting Your Herbs

Help! I have basil coming out my ears and dried lavender hanging from the laundry room clothesline. Dill is going to seed, mint is everywhere, echinacea is in flower. What am I supposed to do with all my herbs this time of year?

This is the time to "process" your herbs. "Process" is the term herbalists use to refer to getting your harvested herbs into a stable, useable form for later use. Sometimes we forget to factor this exercise into our gardening experience, and we can begin to feel overwhelmed with all there is to do. This is a good moment to make an entry in the gardening journal or even your daytimer about the processing chores facing you now, so you can be prepared this time next year.

Keep these supplies on hand:

• Paper shopping bags
• Glass canning jars in different sizes (Don't use old pickle and peanut butter jars. They break too easily.)
• Rubber bands
• Baskets and/or shallow cardboard boxes
• Snips, knives and clippers

Now take a deep breath and take it one herb at a time. Strip the flowers off your lavender spikes into a shopping bag and then pour them into a glass jar. You can bundle the dry stems to throw on a winter fire to fragrance the air.

Gather sprigs of mint together with a rubber band and hang them over a string or on a peg. When dry, strip off the leaves and store them in jars. Keep the leaves as whole as possible to preserve taste, fragrance and potency. For a tea, crumble a teaspoonful and pour a cup of very hot water over it. It only needs to steep 3-5 minutes.

To harvest dill or fennel seeds, gently bend the fragile seedhead over a big open shopping bag and brush the seeds until they fall off.

Cut fresh flower and stems of purple coneflower (Echinacea) to dry or make a tincture. Dig the root in its third year of growth. The root can be dried and stored to be chopped and simmered later when needed.

In general, roots are best harvested in the fall when their potency is highest. Horseradish can go three feet into the ground and takes some time to dig up. I clean the root and then chop it up in the food processor with a little vinegar and salt. CAUTION: Do not put your face directly over this recipe when you take the lid off, unless you are desperate to clear your sinuses and head!

Always store herbs in glass. Don't use plastic, because the oils from the herbs can interact with it. And always place the jars out of direct light. Come February, you will be glad you went to the trouble to harvest and store your homegrown herbs.


Merry Harrison, RH(AHG) is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
For class schedule and to ask questions: www.millcreekherbs.com




Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine


Other articles for the garden...

Grow Your Own Herbs  •   Growing herbs From Seed  •   Acquiring Medicinal/Culinary Herbs  •   The Garden You Didn't Plant
Unusual Culinary Herbs  •   Exotic Garden Herbs  •   Mint  •   Repelling Pests  •   Fall Gardening Tips
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