With an indoor herb garden, you have fresh herbs at your fingertips, but how do you best harvest and make use of your plants?
The first thing to keep in mind is that you want to wait until your plant is “big” enough to start picking the leaves. When your plant gets to be about 6” in height you can start pruning leaves off and using them in your cooking. Don’t take too much at once though, or you will kill the plant!
Once your plant is big enough, you can do is just pick off leaves here and there as you need them. For plants like basil, pinching off the main growing head will encourage bushier growth. Other plants should be harvested from the other leaves. This is a great way to have a fresh flavor for your culinary creations. You may also want to do a bigger harvest of your plants and cut the whole plant to use for drying or freezing.
How to dry and store fresh herbs?
If your plants get very large, you might want to cut off large sections and use them for drying. The best time to do this is right before they flower. This is when herbs are at their peak flavor. You will want to cut 6-8 inch sections of the herbs. You will then place them in a tub of cool water. Carefully rinse the leaves, but do not scrub them. Rinsing the herbs ensures that they are free of dirt and insecticides. If you decide to rinse them under running water, make sure the water is flowing in a light stream so as to not damage the leaves. Gently shake off any excess water.
Next, gather the herbs by the clipped end. Wrap them together with a piece of twine. Make sure you don’t wrap the bunches too tightly as the air will need to penetrate them to allow for proper drying.
The herbs will need to be hung in a cool, dry place to allow them to completely dry out. The clippings should not be disturbed until you are ready to strip the leaves from the stalk.
How to dry out fresh herbs in microwave or oven?
For faster drying, you may use the microwave method of drying. To do this, simply place the bundles on a paper plate and place in the microwave for approximately two minutes, flipping them over every 30 seconds. Be careful with this method though because herbs can actually catch on fire in the microwave! You may also place them in the oven for two to four hours at a temperature not exceeding 180 degrees.
Once the clippings are dry, you will need to strip the leaves from the stalk. Do this by running your hand down the stalk, removing the leaves, until only the stem remains. Place the dried leaves in an airtight container for storage. Label the container so you know which herbs you have stored.
How to freeze dried herbs?
You may also freeze your herbs for later use. Do this by placing the dried leaves in ice trays and fill with water or olive oil. Once they have frozen, place the cubes in freezer bags and freeze until you are ready to use.
It is best to store herb leaves whole and crush just before use as this will preserve the flavor of the herbs. Once the leaves are crushed, the flavors are released which is why you will do this just before using the herb.