Herb Harvesting Time Before Summer Begins

The kitchen herbs have grown tall and some have already been harvested, like Chamomile. Just before the calendar says it’s summer, it’s time to harvest some herbs. We have peppermint, spearmint, oregano, thyme, lemon thyme, lemon balm, catnip and anise hyssop to harvest.

A great time to harvest herbs is right before they start flowering. It seems that the combination of plant chemicals changes during flowering and that means the scent and flavor of the herb will be altered, too. For example, basil attains a more spicy, astringent flavor after the plant flowers and that’s not what we like. To keep basil going strong and growing more leaves instead of flowers, pinch back the growing ends before the flowers are developed.

A few herbs we harvest as we need to use them. For one thing, some herbs like parsley and tarragon just don’t retain their scents very well upon drying. If there is an abundance of these herbs, a few springs will be cut, placed flat in freezer bags and zipped closed. Then, when needed all we have to do is take them from the freezer and snip off some parsley or tarragon. Freezing the herbs in this manner will retain much of their dark green color and much more of their fragrance – not to mention the good-for-you anti-oxidants – than drying them will.

Harvesting the herbs amounts to a few steps and it’s easy. After mid-morning or until about noon, the herbs will be cut with scissors, a sharp knife or pruners, depending on how thick the stems are. Don’t harvest first thing in the morning so that the moisture from the night air has had time to dissipate. Then, small bunches will be tied together and hung upside down to dry.

Alternatively, if there is a lot of plant material to dry, the herbs will be laid out on trays or newspaper in the shade. After a few hours the herbs will be turned over to allow all parts to dry. Turning will continue once or twice a day until the herbs are dry enough to be tied in bunches for hanging storage. Some herbs will have their leaves stripped from the stems and saved in glass jars for making teas.

Herbs Growing Strong in Early Spring

This spring has really got the herbs growing strong. Good temperatures and rain at the right times has helped them reach new heights. We’ve been surprised at just how quickly a few herbs had grown this early Spring.

The fast-growing herbs were the biennial parsley and perennial tarragon and catnip. These particular herbs were growing right next to the house, within five feet of the stone structure that faces south. The stone walls collect heat as the sun shines during the day. At night they release this stored energy and that boosted the growth of these herbaceous plants. On the side of the herb bed opposite the house is a flagstone walkway, so those large flat stones also hold and release heat that benefits plant growth.

Parsley that was planted last year overwintered and started re-growing early. These flat-leaf parsley plants reached about three feet tall and started putting energy into making their seed heads. Each plant was pulled up, roots and all. Dirt was shaken from the roots and the plants were hung upside down to dry.

Harvested early herbs included Russian tarragon, catnip and flat-leaf parsley.
Harvested early herbs included Russian tarragon, catnip and flat-leaf parsley. These herbs reached a height of two to three feet. Photo taken 11 May 2012.

Catnip was treated the same way, so the entire plant was pulled up and hung to dry. We know there are mother roots that have been established under the flagstone walkway, so the catnip plants that were pulled up will be replaced by others.

The tarragon was pulled up by the roots like the other herbs that were harvested, but instead the Russian tarragon was put in the compost pile. We’ve used it in a few dishes and never appreciated any flavor from the Russian variety. Right next to that we have a French tarragon plant. I only wish that the French tarragon would have grown so well. It’s such a scraggly little plant compared to the Russian one. Perhaps with the large plants out of the area, the French tarragon will now take off. It has such a pleasing scent and anise-like flavor.

May 11 has to be the earliest that we’ve harvested this amount of herbs. Soon, we’ll have to harvest some thyme, mints and oregano so that we get the most flavorful herbs before they go to seed.