Many herbs can be harvested throughout the year.
For leafy herbs, (parsley, chives, sorrel, etc), cut the stems about an inch above ground level. Trim and discard any discoloured or damaged leaves.
For shrubby herbs, (rosemary, sage, thyme, etc), cut the growing tip of the plant. Do not cut into the old, woody stems. Always make sure there is new growth visible below the cut.
Most plants will benefit from being harvested regularly. This encourages vigorous, new growth and prolongs the supply of fresh material. It also improves the shape of the plant, making it bushy and sturdy.
Herbs for preserving should be harvested on a dry, sunny morning, after the dew has evaporated. To obtain maximum flavour and nutritional content, material for preserving needs to be at its very best. This will depend on the part of the plant that is required.
Leaves should be harvested just before the plant flowers.
Flowers are at their best when they have just opened.
Fruit should be just ripe.
Roots are at their best when the top growth of the plant has completely died back, in autumn or winter.
Herbs for drying should be harvested on a dry, sunny morning, after the dew has evaporated. Cut the stems just above ground level. Trim and discard any discoloured or damaged leaves. Tie into small bunches and hang in a dark, dry, airy place, or put them in a paper bag punched with holes, to eliminate light and dust. When the plant is completely dry, it will become brittle. Remove the leaves from the stems and store in airtight jars, in a dark place. To retain maximum flavour, it is best to store the leaves whole & crush, if necessary, just before using.
Freezing is the best method for preserving the colour, flavour and nutritional content of herbs with soft, lush, green leaves, (e.g. chives, dill, basil, mint, tarragon). Wash the herbs, if necessary, and shake dry. Freeze them in plastic bags, in bunches, on the stem. There is no need to thaw before using, just add at the end of cooking.
Alternatively, chop the herbs finely, put them in ice-cube trays and top up with water. Flowers, especially borage, can be frozen in ice-cubes for adding to drinks.
Preserving in Oil/Vinegar
Herbs preserved in oil or vinegar are very useful for adding flavour to many dishes.
Fill a wide-necked, sterilised jar with fresh herb, broken into pieces with your fingers. When the jar is as full as possible, cover with good quality olive, sunflower, safflower or almond oil, preferably organic. Put on a tight fitting lid. Stand the jar in a warm or sunny place, covering it with brown paper if it’s in a sunny position. Shake at least once a day for 14 days. Strain and store out of direct light.
Suitable herbs: basil, garlic, fennel, lavender, rosemary, savory, tarragon, thyme.
Spices, chillies and orange or lemon peel can be added.
Bruise the herb and fill a wide-necked jar. Top up with warm (not hot) wine or cider vinegar. Continue as for herb oils.
Suitable herbs: bay, chervil, dill, elderflower, garlic, fennel, lavender, mint, rosemary, tarragon, thyme. Spices, chillies and citrus rind can also be added.
Fruit vinegars are made by the same method. Roughly chop the fruit in a food processor first.
Suitable fruits: blackberries, blackcurrants, blueberries, gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries.
Details to follow..
Details to follow..
Seed saving is a specialist topic as every variety is different. However in many cases it is very straightforward.
Seed that is green when it starts to form (e.g. parsley, fennel) is ripe when it changes from green to brown and comes away easily from the stem.
For seeds in pods (e.g. poppies, aquilegia), shake the stem. You will hear the seeds rattle when they are ripe and the capsule will conveniently open so you can shake the seeds out.
For airborne seeds (e.g. elecampane, coltsfoot, dandelion), try to catch them on a dry day before they fly away!
I will be adding a dedicated seed saving page soon..