Harvesting Herbs: Catnip Drying for Storage

Early this morning the low temperature was 47 and sunshine is on tap for today. A great day for harvesting a few herbs and drying them in the sun.

After the morning chill is gone and the sun warms everything a bit, we’ll take the scissors or pruners to cut down some herbs. If the plant is an annual, it’ll be pulled out of the ground and the excess soil removed from the roots.

Large stems or whole plants will be draped over a wire mesh for drying. Bulky plants will be turned every so often or trimmed down so that air can circulate around the plant parts we want to collect.

Once the plant seems dry to the touch, it can be manicured or clipped into smaller pieces.

Catnip was harvested a couple days ago by pulling out the entire plant. The three feet tall stems were laid on a piece of (untreated) plywood in the garage. The stems were turned about once a day so that all parts could dry out. After three days time the plant was almost completely dry, except for a few tips of the stems.

At this point a large, black plastic bag was laid out flat. The purpose of the bag was to give a clean surface on which to collect the dried herb. Each stem was manicured by cutting off the flowering spikes and leaves, which were allowed to fall onto the plastic bag.

Leaves that had turned brown – the catnip plant was drying up from the bottom as it concentrated on flowering and producing seeds – were stripped off and placed in a separate pile from the dried green herb. The brown leaves will go to the cats and the green leaves will go into tea. When you strip leaves from the stems try not to crumble the leaves so the herb’s essence will remain intact.

The cut catnip was allowed to lay out on the plastic bag for another day before being collected into small brown bags for temporary storage. Each bag was labeled with “Catnip – September 2008”. Catnip for tea will be stored in a glass container inside a cupboard.

What are you going to harvest today?

Time to Watch for Dandelions is Now

Spring is just starting to arrive in Central Pennsylvania and one treat that local folk look forward to around the time of Easter dinners is dandelion salad. Early dandelion leaves are picked by the pound and softened with a hot bacon salad dressing and usually served with baked ham. Members of local fire departments and churches cook great batches of food for anyone happening to see their signs on the road and for the locals who look forward to these annual dinner events.

If you’re feeling adventurous, try a dandelion salad this spring. The familiar dandelion is found just about everywhere and is easily recognized by its basal rosette of toothed, deeply cleft leaves and bright yellow flower head.

It’s a little early to harvest much dandelion now, but while you’re sprucing up your gardens take a look around and scout out some dandelions that look promising. Make sure to pick dandelions from areas that are not sprayed with pesticides or weed killers.

Pick the young leaves and the flower buds for the least bitter taste. After dandelions flower most think the taste is strongly bitter, so young early spring leaves are preferred. Toss the stems and unused greens into your compost heap.

Cut the washed leaves into half-inch wide strips and leave out the stems of the larger leaves. Instead of using bacon or ham drippings to prepare the dressing, try canola oil or olive oil as a healthy alternative. Unsaturated fats in canola and olive oils are much preferred over the saturated animal fats in the bacon and ham. An added bonus is that the lighter plant oils will let other flavors come through, so you get to taste more ingredients than the heavy bacon-ham dressing.