Whether used for cooking, bouquets, teas or herbal baths, there’s no substitute for fresh cut herbs and knowing how to cut, preserve, harvest and store them is essential. Here are some tips and tricks for cutting fresh herbs.
It’s good to snip herbal plants regularly throughout the summer as this will encourage new growth and branching. Herbs are hearty so you can harvest successive cuttings whenever you need fresh herbs. Be sure to cut no more than one-third of the stem’s length unless the herb is chives or lavender in which case you’ll want to harvest the flowering steps at ground level when they’re in bloom.
It’s best to gather herbs early in the day before the sun bakes the plants’ essential oils but after the dew has dried. When harvesting herbal leaves, the best time to do this is when the plant’s flowers start to form, cutting the stems at their peak. Near the end of the growing season, when you’re ready to start harvesting seeds, wait for the flowers to mature and turn brown. Harvesting the seeds will be easier.
When it comes to cooking with herbs, strip the leaves from the plant’s stems by sliding your forefinger and thumb from top to bottom. Herbs like bay, parsley and tansy have thicker leaves and you’ll want to snip those.
Preserving herbs entails gathering small bunches (10-15 stems) and hanging them in a warm, airy place to dry. You can wrap the stems tightly with a rubber band or tie them with twine. Then hang the herb bunches on the rung of a hanger, from a nail, or on a drying rack. Depending on the plant’s moisture content, drying can take up to three weeks. Remove crisp-dry leaves before storing herbs. Place a paper bag over dry seed heads, tying the open end of the bag around the stems, with one type of herb in each bag. Label each bag and in a few weeks the seeds will drop into the bag. Allow seeds to dry out completely before properly storing.
To properly store dried herbs you’ll need airtight glass or ceramic containers. Store these containers away from light and heat. This is the best way to protect the herbs’ fragrance and flavor. Keep your herbs’ leaves whole, crushing leaves to release flavor just before needed. Dried herbs should be used within a year of harvesting.