Using Homegrown Herbs

You have followed all of the advice, and successfully grown a rich harvest (well a harvest anyway!) of homegrown herbs. You sewed the seed, nourished the plants and watched them grow. Now is the time to use them in the best way you can – and as you will know now herbs are useful in so many ways.

Using herbs from a home herb garden requires a little bit or work and effort. First you need to harvest them. Timing is a big factor here.  The wind and the heat can disperse the essential oils of the herbs.  You should choose a calm and dry morning during midsummer to harvest your herbs.  Be aware that fewer oils are produced by most herbs on very wet days.  Harvest the herbs just after the dew has dried from the leaves, right before the flowers open.  What does harvesting the herb does mean? It doesn’t mean removing the entire plant.  At this point, you want to just take a certain amount of the fresh herb for use.  You do not need to use the herbs that you are harvesting straight away, you can preserve them to use later.  Be careful not to take more then one third of the plant’s foliage at one time.  The plant will need a good amount of foliage to re-grow well. You should also inspect the plant for insects and damaged leaves before you harvest it.

Usually there are three ways people like to preserve their herbs for later use; drying, freezing, or using medium like salt or vinegar. In order to dry herbs you need to bundle six to twelve stems together, and remove any foliage near the base of the stems.  You can secure the bundle with string which helps.  Hang the bundle in a cool location away from sunlight.  (If you are looking to dry individual leaves you can place them on a screen or a rack.  Remember to turn them often in order for them to dry properly.  Some people have turned to using appliances like dehydrators, ovens or microwaves to dry herbs but we do not recommend these ways here.) Freezing is a fairly simple way to preserve herbs.  Cut the herbs into ¼ inch pieces, and place them on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  Once the herbs are frozen, you can place them together in a bag and store them in the freezer until ready to use.  The third way to preserve herbs is through a medium.  You can cover herbs, like chopped mint, basil or tarragon, with vinegar – and they will be preserved for several months.  Or you can make a flavored salt to preserve herbs by alternating layers of fresh herbs between salt.  When completely dry separate the brown herb from the flavored salt and store it in an airtight container.

Of course, the best time to use herbs is fresh right out of the garden.  Take care cleaning the herbs before they are placed fresh in recipes.  In order to clean fresh herbs place them in a bowl filled with cool water.  If there is a large quantity of herbs you can use the sink.  Place about two tablespoons of salt in the water.  The salt in the water will drive away insects without damaging the plant.  Remove the herbs from the water and dry them in a salad spinner.

Different types of herbs are used for many different uses.  Each different type of herb has their own list of instructions on how to use, harvest, and chop them.  It is a good idea to research the specific type of herb you are using if you are doing a lot of preserving.

To learn more visit my herb growing site.

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  1. Mindy says:

    Thanks for this info. The cleaning method is very interesting — I never would have thought to use salt! I also appreciate learning that I shouldn’t take more than 1/3 of the plant.

    It would be very helpful to have some guidelines about where to snip, what to leave, etc. to allow the herbs to continue growing.


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