Preserving Your Herbal Harvest

Preserving herbs by drying and freezing the fresh sprigs are only two ways to keep herbs through the winter months. Most herbs are dried or used fresh, but, today, with alternatives such as freezing and vacuum sealing which were not practically available to our ancestors, we are able to preserve more of the flavors of the herbs we grow.

As far back as 2500 BC, the ancient Egyptians and Sumerian civilizations have regarded certain plants in high esteem for exhibiting properties that would cure headaches, gout, and various ailments. This knowledge was acquired through trial and error, literally, until the reputations of these herbs became common knowledge among early physicians, being passed down from generation to generation through written and oral history. It wasn't until much later that herbs were considered for the purposes of flavoring and preserving food.

Collecting Fresh Herbs for Storage

Many herbs can be picked throughout the growing season, such as parsley, basil and oregano, and used fresh for much of the summer. When you pick these herbs, the optimum time to snip the herbs is the morning after a rain the night before, and, the rain or dew has dried off of the leaves to be harvested. The herb sprigs should be harvested just before the plant starts to bloom. This keeps the plant producing more leaves, and, by periodically clipping the herb plants, branching is encouraged. As soon as the plants produce flowers, they start to set seeds to completed their life cycle, shutting down production of leaves to produce the seeds for the next generation of herb plants.

Do not over-harvest the individual plants, but, instead, clip only a couple of sprigs from each plant at a time to keep them from going into shock, which will slow leaf production, and, or worse, kill the plants. Pick only the healthiest sprigs for use, discarding any brown or yellowing leaves and hard woody stems. Fresh herbs should be used within a week, even if kept in well-sealed bags in the refrigerator. All harvested herbs should be prepared for drying as soon as possible after picking to maximize the nutritional value, aroma and flavor of the herb being preserved.