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The Preservation Has Begun

June 27th, 2011

Last week I harvested the first items for the pantry: herbs. Each year I harvest herbs and dry them in the attic to add to our meals and to enjoy as tea. I grow a wide variety of herbs in the garden some perennial, some annual. I won’t list all the herbs I have in the garden as there are quite a few. Each year I try to add a few more and learn how to use them both for culinary and medicinal purposes.

You’re supposed to harvest herbs right before them bloom; in the morning after the dew has dried, but before it gets too sunny and warm. At least that’s what I read you should do to get the best flavored herbs for your pantry. I’ve never done any experiments to see if it matters or not, but it makes sense to me that the plants would have more oils in the morning before they it gets too warm.

What made it into my harvest basket?

Peppermint – (Mentha x piperita piperita) Peppermint tea is a refreshing alternative to coffee and regular tea. Excellent for stomach indigestion. Lends its spiciness to many dishes. Don’t be fooled by seeds labelled as ‘peppermint’, peppermint can’t produce seeds because its flowers are sterile. (source of plants: Richter’s)

Sage – (Salvia officinalis) The main culinary varieties popular with onions for poultry stuffing and for flavouring rich meats like pork or duck. Also in homemade sausage, omelettes, cheese and bean dishes. Sage tea gargle is valuable for sore throat. It has highly aromatic leaves and along soft spikes of blooms that invite hummingbirds to the garden. (source: Renee’s Garden)

Mountain Mint – (Pycnanthemum pilosum) Hardy U.S. native. Leaves possess a wonderful menthol fragrance; may be used just like peppermint. Excellent beeplant. (source of seeds: Richter’s)

Greek Oregano – (Origanum vulgare hirtum) This is the true oregano collected wild in the mountains of Greece. White flowers; very hardy. Excellent flavour. (source: seeds from Richter’s)

Bodegold Chamomile – (Matricaria recutita ‘Bodegold’) Improved strain of German chamomile for commercial production. Erect, sturdy growth habit and larger flowers containing up 0.7% essential oil high in bisabolol and other medicinal compounds. (source: Renee’s Garden)
I’ve read that you shouldn’t fertilize your herbs too much or it will lessen the amount of oils in them, which will make them less potent. In my experience I have found that herbs are carefree and don’t really mind lean dry conditions. Once established, perennial herbs can take a good amount of neglect if they’re well suited to your climate and soil. Annual herbs can be a whole different ball game. I find some annual herbs to be picky and difficult to grow – at least here in my soil conditions. I have trouble growing cilantro, which is quite a shame because I enjoy it so much. Growing it in a container seems to be the best option for me.

It certainly looks like it will be a savory winter here at Chiot’s Run. I’ll be so glad I took the time to harvest these herbs and others while I’m enjoying sage stuffing at Thanksgiving or sipping a cup of hot peppermint tea on a chilly evening in January.

Do you harvest and dry herbs for winter use? What’s your favorite herb to grow in the garden?

28 Comments to “The Preservation Has Begun”
  1. KimH on June 27, 2011 at 5:14 am

    I think my favorite herb is lemon balm. It self seeds everywhere and I love to make a wonderful tea from it.. I use it in salads and other dishes occasionally, too.
    Basil is probably my other most favorite. I just love that snappy bright bite.
    I grow quite a few different herbs for both medicinal and culinary uses too.. Definitely a love of mine..

    Reply to KimH's comment

    • Rhonda on June 27, 2011 at 10:05 am

      I keep reading about how much people like lemon balm. I guess I’ll have to finally plant some!

      Reply to Rhonda's comment

      • KimH on June 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm

        My grandmother used to share the stories of her childhood and how her mother would make teas from different wild herbs and eat the wild pot herbs..(greens). She used lemon balm & yarrow both to cool down a fevered brow.. Once my gram started sharing these wonderful stories, I was hooked.. line & sinker. ;)

        to KimH's comment

  2. Allison on June 27, 2011 at 5:53 am

    My favorite is also cilantro and I used to have a difficult time growing it as well. Last year I planted a few seeds and just let the suckers take off. I let the new plants bloom and drop seeds and this year it has come back healthier and heartier than ever.

    Reply to Allison's comment

  3. Melissa on June 27, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I had trouble growing cilantro down here in the South until I noticed it sprouted on it’s own in the late fall and lived all through the winter and spring. It’s gone to seed now and I should have loads of coriander seed soon! Unfortunately it doesn’t like the heat down here!

    Reply to Melissa's comment

  4. Andrés on June 27, 2011 at 9:48 am

    When you dry your herbs in the attic, do you just tie them together in bunches? Or do you do anything else to them, like put them in paper bags or anything?

    Reply to Andrés's comment

    • Susy on June 27, 2011 at 9:55 am

      Sometimes I tie them in bunches and hang from the rafters (we have an unfinished second story attic so you can walk around it in and it has a subfloor). If I’m in a hurry I simply spread them out on a screen or a wire shelf to dry. In a week or so when their completely dry I store in glass canning jars. I don’t usually crumble or powder them until I use them as I find this seems help retain flavor.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • Andres on June 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm

        Thanks! I have been hanging my in tied bunches in the dinning room, but I recently was able to get a dehydrator from Freecycle, so I am contemplating drying some herbs with that as well.

        to Andres's comment

  5. kristin @ going country on June 27, 2011 at 9:53 am

    First time drying herbs this year, spread out on a window screen in the back of my car. Weird, but totally works. Sage, rosemary, and oregano so far. Basil soon.

    Reply to kristin @ going country's comment

  6. Alyssa on June 27, 2011 at 10:00 am

    I haven’t dried them yet but I plan to this year. I love basil and I never seem to grow enough! I also love thyme it’s pretty little leaves, between that and mint (which is running wild in my rose bed) we use them in everything. I love to make a mint syrup with some of the fresh leaves, we have so much and I can it. In the middle of winter it makes a wonderful splash of summer when mixed with some club soda.

    Reply to Alyssa's comment

    • KimH on June 28, 2011 at 6:43 pm

      Oh wow.. mint syrup.. I’ve never thought to make that.. and I have a huge bed of different kinds of mints… Most just going to waste other than a few mojitos a year.. Wonderful idea.. Thanks! :D

      Reply to KimH's comment

  7. Rhonda on June 27, 2011 at 10:15 am

    Something weird I noticed… Last year I planted German Chamomile, Hyssop and Purple Cone Flower by seed and none of then even germinated, or so I thought. This spring, I started noticing some stuff sprouting that I didn’t remember planting. One of them, I thought was Queen Ann’s Lace, but when I picked a bit off and smelled it, I thought it MAY be chamomile and I was right! I went ahead and left the other plants go ahead and grow in case they were items I had also planted but didn’t sprout. So, it was a nice little surprise to see these things pop up when I actually planted them last year.

    Reply to Rhonda's comment

  8. MAYBELLINE on June 27, 2011 at 10:17 am

    I only dry lavender. All the others are fresh year round:
    chives, thyme, parsley, rosemary

    Reply to MAYBELLINE's comment

  9. Denimflyz on June 27, 2011 at 10:23 am

    I am in herb mode here also. I am drying cilantro that I have to purchase at the grocery when they get it in, which is very few times, so I take advantage of it and get it when I can. I do cilantro in very large 20 qt buckets and I have started some now, I lost most to our very cold wet spring and I place the buckets in part sun/.part shade and I have very good luck with it. I have very limited space.
    I will be snipping some basil, and some chives to dry, and I have volunteer basil coming up in various buckets I use for my garden. I made pesto and freeze, I use cleaned, sanitized baby food jars for my pesto and freeze in these.
    I have found that the old saying of snipping in early morning holds true for me as here in Nebraska, the summer heat starts early in the morning, so I get while the gettin’ is good. Then I rinse in cold water and then dab with a paper towel and then place in the dehydrator until they are dry and then place in freezer bags until I can get my jars in place and then in the jars they go and then placed in the freezer.
    Thank you for all of your garden postings, I really enjoy them and your wonderful life you and Mr live.
    Garden Regards

    Reply to Denimflyz's comment

  10. SixBalloons on June 27, 2011 at 10:28 am

    Basil and Lemon Verbena are definitely my favourite herbs.

    Reply to SixBalloons's comment

  11. AGinPA on June 27, 2011 at 10:43 am

    I planted chamomile several years ago and only had a couple small plants. But it keeps reseeding itself and this year I’ve got huge plants with tons of blooms. I guess I’ll be having lots of chamomile tea this winter…

    Do you rinse your herbs before drying?

    Reply to AGinPA's comment

    • Susy on June 27, 2011 at 11:27 am

      No rinsing – I avoid harvesting any that looks like it has bird droppings on it – but other than that I dry as they’re harvested from the garden. I actually don’t rinse most of the things we harvest from the garden except for lettuce. If they’re dirty I’ll rinse or brush off the soil – but most vegetables are cooked and many fruits & berries are too fragile. I personally believe that they have beneficial bacteria on them that aid in digestion – so no rinsing of homegrown goodies. If I purchase them I do rinse them however because I can’t be certain of how they were grown.

      Reply to Susy's comment

      • AGinPA on June 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm

        Oh good, it’s not just me. I can’t imagine rinsing the herbs first. It would take so much longer to dry and I’d be worried about mold. But I was surprised to see several books recommend it. Glad to know not everyone rinses.

        to AGinPA's comment

  12. Mistresseve on June 27, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Years ago when I lived with my mother I had plenty of space for an herb garden. Since then I have gotten out of the habit of growing so many herbs as I lack the real estate to do so (I currently rent a townhouse). I do however manage to grow quite a few vegetables in my raised bed, in containers, and in a plot in our community garden, but for the most part, herbs have taken a back seat to more “productive” culinary pursuits. I do, however, always reserve container space for basil, parsley and cilantro. My parsley and chive seeds did not come up at all this year, presumably due to the overly wet spring, but the basil I started indoors is thriving. I have no problems with cilantro here other than it’s propensity to reseed itself EVERYWHERE and the speed at which it bolts and goes to seed in the summer heat.
    I have dried my herbs I the past, both by tying and hanging, and on window screens, but I have since found that I prefer to freeze them. I like that when freezing them they retain their color, flavor and freshness.

    Reply to Mistresseve's comment

  13. Sande on June 27, 2011 at 12:20 pm

    I have been picking dill leaves, lemon balm, and basil for additions to our lunch salads. Very tasty. I also have dried some mint and sage for winter.

    Reply to Sande's comment

  14. Candie on June 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm

    I am growing lemon balm for the first time and it is doing very well what can I do with it?

    Reply to Candie's comment

  15. Marcia on June 27, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I love all herbs but my favorite is Dill. I had my first taste of garden goodies this weekend with a radish, spinach, onion and dill salad. It was wonderful! I tried growing basil from seed in the garden but it is soooo slow. Tiny sprouts have come up but it will be a while before I harvest.

    Reply to Marcia's comment

  16. Tee on June 27, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    I like this idea of the screen in the attic.
    I have the same problem with cilantro.
    Your blog is a cool walk in a friends garden

    Reply to Tee's comment

  17. Kerry on June 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    What made you choose that variety of German chamomile specifically? I’m not certain what percent oil is normally in a chamomile flower off-hand.

    All the herbs look very healthy!

    Reply to Kerry's comment

    • Susy on June 27, 2011 at 5:18 pm

      I chose it because it was from Renee’s garden and I was ordering seeds from her. I’ve grown other varieties of chamomile in the garden and this one seems to have more flavor.

      Reply to Susy's comment

  18. Sincerely,Emily on June 27, 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Your herbs look healthy and flavorful! Basil is at the top of my list for herbs, but I have many many herbs planted. I like drying oregano, thyme, & mint and I need to start drying some of the other herbs out there too. I also need to remember to plant chamomile in March otherwise it gets too dang hot down here. Cilantro grows well in the late fall through winter and into spring before it goes to seed. Drying herbs is wonderful. I love knowing that the herbs we are eating were grown in the garden. Emily

    Reply to Sincerely,Emily's comment

  19. Misti on June 27, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Harvesting herbs for long term use is something I definitely want to learn in the future, particularly for teas and such. I hope you post the methods of preservation!

    Reply to Misti's comment

  20. Grace on June 28, 2011 at 7:17 am

    I always dry my spearmint for tea as it is established nicely. Everything else is still pretty new so the plants are small. Still working on getting more herbs in the garden!

    Reply to Grace's comment


This is a daily journal of my efforts to cultivate a more simple life, through local eating, gardening and so many other things. We used to live in a small suburban neighborhood Ohio but moved to 153 acres in Liberty, Maine in 2012.

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