It’s that time of year when the last of the fragrant and medicinal herbs come to full growth and await their harvest. If you have and herb garden outside or in a window sill, you may be wondering how to harvest herbs in a way that helps them retain their aroma, color, taste, and healing power. In today’s post I’ll show you how!
My preferred method for harvesting herbs is to leave the plant in tact and take only the leaves and flowers whenever possible. Make sure to try and leave one plant completely unharmed when you wildcraft so that the family can continue to grow. If you are working with an herb with medicinal bark, roots, or rhizomes, these instructions won’t work for those plants.
To take the leaves in a way that is the most gentle to the plant, simply pinch them off at the spot where they leave the stem. Don’t use scissors! Pinching helps create a seal that the plant can use to heal itself. This is especially important for perennials since they will come back next year and you want them to be healthy and strong when they do.
If you are working with annual plants or if you want to increase the amount of essentials in the leaves, you can use clean and sanitized scissors to cut the stems off at the soil line. See below for special handling and drying instructions.
The best time to remove leaves is just before the plant begins to flower as close to the full moon as possible. Flowers should be harvested as soon as they are fully bloomed and as close to the full moon as possible.
Once the leaves and/or flowers have all been pinched off…
You’ll need to full and properly dry your medicinal herbs to make sure they retain all their goodness without getting moldy or going bad. Ideally you should grow organic herbs so that they don’t need a rinse, but if they do, now is the time to do it. Use a salad spinner or colander to gently wash the leaves – avoiding bruising them if possible. Let them dry on linen or a screen overnight.
You can use a low-temperature food dehydrator, drying screen, or linen cloth to dry your herbs. If you use a dehydrator, go for the lowest possible setting to avoid cooking the delicate leaves. If you use a screen, set it in a shaded place where there is good air flow. If you use linen, you’ll need to turn your leaves once or twice daily to ensure they dry evenly.
If you are drying leaves or flowers that are still on the stems, just bunch them up in groups of 3 or 4 and hang them upside-down by tying cord around the base of the stems. This drying process allows the essentials to sink down into the leaves as they dry. You can hang them in the shade, inside the home near an air flow, or even in a clean attic.
You’ll know your herbs are completely dry when you can crush them between your fingers and they fall apart easily without any bounce-back or rubbery feelings. Once they’re that dry, dry them for one more day just to be safe.
I created another post on storing which you can read here.
Once you have dried your harvested herbs, you can treat them in the same way you’d treat bulk herbs you buy from your local herb shop, health food store, or online supplier. The fun part is that you got to be part of the entire growing process and you now have a deeply intimate connection with your healing tea herbs!
This is a great time to think about all of the various herbal tea varieties you enjoyed and relied on over the past year and to start making plans on what seeds to buy for your planting in the Spring!