University of Vermont Extension
Department of Plant and Soil Science
Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
herb is any plant that is used in whole or part as an ingredient for
fragrance. To get the most out of herbs, harvest them at their peak
freshness and store or preserve them properly.
Harvest herbs when
the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. The
on what plant part is being harvested and its intended use. Most
herbs are cultivated for their foliage
and should be harvested just before the flower buds open. Although
herbs such as chives are quite
attractive in bloom, flowering can cause the foliage to develop an
In general the
best time to harvest for maximum flavor is in early morning. Avoid
bruising leaves, and avoid leaving them
in the sun where they’ll start to lose their oils. Rinse in cold
water, then shake gently to
remove some moisture. Remove any
diseased or wilted plant parts.
especially parsley, chives, mint, and oregano, can be harvested
fresh use beginning as soon as the plant has enough foliage to
Harvest herbs grown for seeds-- dill, caraway, coriander, and cumin,
example-- as the fruits change color from green to brown or gray but
they scatter to the ground.
flowers such as borage and chamomile just before full flowering.
roots including bloodroot, chicory, ginseng, and golden seal in the
the foliage fades. Just be sure to mark the plants before the
foliage drops, so
you don't forget where they are located. You can harvest fragrant
herbs and dry them
If you don't
intend to use herbs immediately, drying is the most common way to
them. Tie leafy herbs with long stems in bunches and hang to air
dry. Easiest to dry this way are the sturdy herbs
such as rosemary, sage, thyme, summer savory, and parsley. Rinse
dust and soil from foliage, shake off
excess water, and remove dead or damaged leaves. Then hang upside
down in a
warm, dry, well-ventilated place. To preserve foliage color, avoid
sunlight. Enclose seed heads in paper bags to catch seeds as they
fall. Or you
can horizontal on dry on wire mesh trays in well-ventilated areas.
If you have a
dehydrator (useful too for fruits and vegetables), this is a quick
method for drying. It is useful for
high-moisture herbs such as basil, oregano, tarragon, lemon balms,
mints. If these aren’t dried quickly
they may mold. Use a low dehydrator setting,
between 95 and 115 degrees (F) is ideal, slightly higher if the air
humid. Wash and shake as you would if
air drying, then place in single layers on trays. Depending on the
herb, it may dry in as soon
as one to 4 hours, but usually within 12 hours.
Check periodically, and remove when leaves crumble when touched and
stems break when bent.
method of preservation is to salt-cure by placing herbs between
coarse grade or regular table salt. Seal the drying salt in an
container such as a glass jar or plastic tub. Salt-drying preserves
future use as well as produces herb-flavored salt that can be used
seasoning in cooking.
When dried, leaves
may be stored whole or crumbled. Store
in airtight and dry containers in cool and dark. Remember that
dried herbs are 3 to 4 times
stronger than if fresh, so use proportionately less in recipes.
Cut flower heads
of thyme when 4 to 6 inches long and at full bloom. Use dried thyme
in soups, stews, sauces,
dressings, and to flavor meats. The
relatively larger leaves of sage are best cut before or during
bloom. Dried sage leaves are often used with meats
and sausage. Fresh mint leaves are known
by many as a flavoring for iced drinks, but dried they flavor tea,
as for lamb, and fruit salads.
Parsley can be cut
as soon as plants are 4 to 6 inches tall, and may continue through
season. Then you can dig the plants,
pot, and grow in a sunny location indoors through fall and into
winter. Fresh or dried, parsley is used in many ways,
particularly in Italian cooking and sauses.
Chives are another
common herb that has many uses, can be cut continually, then potted
indoors for winter. It is also a hardy
perennial out of doors. Not only do the
flowers lessen the flavor, but if they form seeds you’ll have chives
around. They give a mild onion flavor to
many recipes, and are especially favored with eggs and cottage
leaves and flowers either just before bloom or when beginning to
bloom. Use marjoram either fresh or dried to flavor
soups, egg or potato recipes, and meats.
You can use dill
leaves or flowers to flavor soups and fish (it’s a great addition to
sandwiches). It can be boiled with
cabbage, cauliflower, or turnips. If
using the seeds to flavor dill pickles, harvest when they are fully
but still green.
More on harvesting
and preserving all types of crops can be found online from the
National Center for Home Food Preservation (www.ugs.edu/nchfp/).