Have you thought about growing your own herbs to dry? If not, I would really like to encourage you to consider it. Not only can you grow organically, you will be amazed by how much more flavor and potency your dried herbs will have when compared to store-bought ones. We love being able to use our home-grown and dried herbs in our home remedies, which I’ve started teaching about here on my blog!
Some of our favorite herbs to grow are chocolate mint, lavender, lemon balm, thyme, rosemary, parsley, sage and dill. You can learn more about each of those herbs in this post.When it comes to actually growing the herbs, you have three choices for getting started.
- Seeds: This is a cheap way to go, though it can be more difficult. I’d recommend finding a good website or book on starting plants from seed. I’ve found that soaking my seeds for 12 to 24 hours in filtered water often helps with germination. After that, I just use organic soil. I evenly space the seeds and sprinkle about 1/4 inch of soil on top. Rather than watering with a watering can, I like to use a spray bottle, since it will gently water without disturbing the seeds. I cover them with an up-side-down clear glass or plastic container until they germinate.
- Cuttings: From your own garden or a friend’s, this is free! This works well for the more “invasive” plants, such as mint. Just remove the lower 2 inches of leaves and stick the stem in the soil. It will grow roots all on it’s own, though you can buy “root stimulator” to dip it in, if you want.
- Plants: Most of my herbs started their life in my garden as ready-to-plant plants. For the mint, I did break it into a bunch of pieces and root them so now I have dozens of mint plants. (Can you tell that I just love my mint??)
Caring For Herbs
Unless we’re having a major drought, I completely ignore my herbs until it’s time to harvest. I don’t fertilize or even regularly water, once they are established. After I have planted them out, I do water daily for about a week, then I cut back to every other day, then every third day, then once a week. After that, I stop and just allow the natural rain cycle to take care of things. If it’s been more than two weeks since we’ve had any rain, I sometimes will give the more delicate ones (such as the dill) a little drink. Other than that, they’re on their own. Adjust this to your climate. If you live in a very dry area, give the herbs a long, slow, deep soaking once a week or once every two weeks.
So, once you’ve grown some herbs, whether in a container or a garden, how do you know when to harvest them?
When To Harvest Your Herbs
- You want to harvest your herbs before they “bolt”. Bolting is when a plant goes from being just a ton of leaves to having long stems topped with flowers, then seeds. Once the plants are putting all of their energy into producing flowers, fruits and seeds, the quality of the leaves won’t be as good. Obviously, this doensn’t apply if you are growing an herb specifically for the flowers or seeds, such as lavender or calendula.
- Harvest in the morning before it gets hot out, but after the dew has dried. If it’s too soon, the herbs will be damp and could mold. If it’s too late, some of the properties of the herbs won’t be as strong.
What You’ll Need
- Sharp pruning shears or scissors.
- Twine, if you’ll be hang-drying. If not, a container to carry your herbs indoors.
How to Harvest
- Carefully hold a bunch of herbs from the top with one hand.
- Use the other hand to cut off no more than 1/3 of the length of the herbs. If you cut more, you could cause too much stress to the plant and kill it. (With some of the more invasive plants, such as mint, we’ve been known to cut them almost to the ground without problems. The 1/3 rule applies to most herbs, though).
- Either bunch the herbs together to tie them up, or put them in a container to use another drying method.
Although many people insist that you must wash your herbs, I am not nearly so concerned about a little dirt. If there is obviously something that needs to be removed (for example, bird poo), I’ll often just discard that herb. A little bit of dirt won’t hurt anybody and any bacteria will be dead by the time the herbs are dried. Washing just prolongs the drying process and encourages mold growth. That’s my opinion, but if you just have to wash the herbs, be sure to gently and thoroughly pat them dry as soon as you are done.
We’ll be learning several different drying methods in a few days, so be sure to check back.
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