by Melinda Myers
Harvest herbs now and preserve them for garden-fresh meals all year round!
For the same intensity of flavor, you generally need two to three times more fresh herbs than dried herbs, with the exception of rosemary, which has an equally strong flavor fresh or dried. Snip a few leaves or leaf-covered stems as needed and continue harvesting herbs throughout the growing season.
Regular harvesting encourages new growth, which means more for you to harvest, just be sure to leave enough foliage to maintain plant growth. You can remove as much as 50 percent of the foliage from annual herb plants when they reach their final height, and remove up to one-third from established perennial plants that have been in the garden for several months or more. For the greatest concentration of flavor, harvest herbs after buds form but before they blossom.
Use a pair of garden scissors or pruners for faster and easier harvesting. Make your cuts above a set of healthy leaves to keep the plants looking beautiful, then preserve the flavor and zest of herbs with proper storage and preservation.
Store thin, leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro in the refrigerator for up to a week. Place in a jar of water and loosely cover with a plastic bag. Keep basil out of the fridge to avoid discoloration. Wrap dry, thicker-leafed herbs like sage and thyme in a paper towel, set inside a plastic bag and place in a warmer section of the refrigerator. Freeze sprigs— whole leaves or chopped—of clean herbs on a cookie sheet, or pack clean, diced herbs in ice cube trays and fill the empty spaces with water. These are great for use in soups and stews. Store the frozen herbs and ice cubes in an airtight container or a baggie in the freezer. You can also bundle several stems together, secure with a rubber band and use a clothespin to hang them in a warm place to dry. Make your own drying rack from an old embroidery hoop, string and S-hooks.
Get creative and use some of your herbs to make a fragrant, edible wreath. Use fresh herbs that are malleable; they will dry in place and can be harvested as needed. Speed up the drying process by placing herbs on a paper towel-covered paper plate and microwaving for one to two minutes on high. Repeat for 30 seconds as needed until the herbs are brittle, then store dried herbs in an airtight plastic or glass jar.
Use these tips to enjoy fresh-from-the-garden flavors throughout the remainder of the season!
Gardening expert Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books. She hosts DVDs, TV & radio segments and is the contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is www.melindamyers.com