I had planted many of my little babies almost more than a year ago and it was a first time pick for some of my juvenile plants i.e. Lemon Thyme, Marjoram and Lemon Verbena to name a few. I was actually sad I had not harvested a lot of my herbs earlier because they were just so vibrant about a month ago but my travel schedule neglected to reap the benefits of a prime time harvest. Nonetheless it was a plentiful bounty in the middle of October.
According to Better Homes and Gardens: Herb Gardening, which I read about three years ago when I first started my personal gardening journey, it is best to harvest and pick your herbs after the dew has dried and before the hottest party of the day. That is when the the essential oil and aroma is the highest for the plants. I use a standard pair of herb trimmers that are pretty sharp and don't damage the stems and help encourage new growth. Some tips regarding herb trimming:
- For Thyme, Lavender, Lemon Thyme and other woody herbs, try to trim the tender new growth instead of the woody parts; I also learned to trim around the outside of these plants instead of just the middle because over time they tend to only grow from the outside and not the center
- Don't trim off everything otherwise how are your plants going to be able to grow and produce new growth for your next harvest? A good rule of thumb is trim off up to 50% of leaves/flowers
- For horsetail, especially if you are making a tincture, trim the new shoots that are still malleable instead of the old crispier ones
After trimming I wash them off really well and let them sun dry for about 15-30 minutes turning them over every so often. Letting them dry in the sun can diminish the essential oil and aroma content (can evaporate with the heat) but I was just too lazy to let them dry in the house.
Next was drying them since I mostly use them for homeopathic care, remedy making, etc. They are also great to use in cooking!
I dry my herbs pretty simply. Some people use a low temperature oven bake. Some people use a dehydrator (I want one of these so bad!). I just prefer the tie with twine, hang the bundled herbs on some hangers, find a crevice to hang it on in the garage and wait one to two weeks method. Natural. Easy. A practice in patience. Some tips on drying:
- Make sure the herbs are as dry as possible when hanging them; if they are still damp when you put them out to dry in a nice warm dark garage, imagine the bacteria or mold growth that might occur
- Brings me to my next point, hang them in a dark warm place with some circulation! We have small mesh windows in our garage. I know another method is laying it on a rack and putting some paper or a light cloth over it in a dark corner of your room - whatever suits your fancy. Sunlight will further degrade the essential oil content of your dried herbs
- Space the bunches of herbs evenly on the hanger so that it doesn't tip to one side and it in a huge cluster hanging from one end
- Keep an eye on your drying herbs; Taking them down too early can make it difficult to harvest the leaves off the stem and taking them down too late in the drying process is a brittle crackle-y non-aromatic mess. There is no exact drying amount of time because the area you are drying them in can vary according to temperature and environment. I also do a check with the herbs like rosemary - if it is slightly crumbling into my hand then I know it is time to start shelling the leaves off the stem. If it is a struggle to get them to fall off they need more drying time.