|PICTURES | MELINDA MYERS|
|English thyme growing in the garden.|
Continue to enjoy your homemade herbs all year round.
Harvest throughout the growing season and include them in meals fresh from the garden. Then save a few for the coming winter.
Cut off a few leafy leaves or stems as needed. For the same flavor intensity, you generally need two to three times more fresh than dried herbs, except for Rosemary, which has an equally strong flavor fresh or dried. So if the recipe calls for a teaspoon of dried parsley, use a tablespoon (3 teaspoons) of fresh parsley leaves.
Continue to harvest herbs as needed throughout the growing season. And don’t worry about harming the plant because regular harvesting encourages new growth, which means more for you to harvest. Just be sure to leave enough leaves intact to sustain plant growth.
You can remove up to fifty percent of the leaves from established annual herbaceous plants. This is about the time the plants approach their final height. You can remove up to a third of established perennials that have been in the garden for several months or more. Harvest when the plant has formed buds, but before they open into bloom for the greatest concentration of flavor. This is the perfect time to harvest any herbs you plan to save.
Use a pair of garden scissors or pruning shears for faster and easier harvesting. Make your cuts above a set of healthy leaves to keep the plants in good condition. Then, preserve the flavor and zest of the herbs with proper storage and preservation.
Store leafy herbs like parsley and cilantro for up to a week in the refrigerator. Place the stems in a pot of water, like a flower arrangement, and cover loosely with a plastic bag. Keep basil out of the fridge to prevent discoloration and others on the counter for quick and frequent use.
Wrap dry, thicker-leaved herbs like sage and thyme in a paper towel, place them in a plastic bag, and move them to a warmer section of the refrigerator.
Freeze sprigs, whole leaves, or clean chopped herbs on a cookie sheet. Or pack clean diced herbs into ice cube trays and fill the empty spaces with water. They are perfect for use in soups and stews. Store frozen herbs and ice cubes in an airtight container or bag in the freezer.
Or bundle several stems together, secure them with a rubber band, and use a spring-loaded clothespin to hang them in a warm, dry 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 which are flexible and easier to shape into a wreath. They dry in place and can be harvested as needed.
Speed up the microwave drying process. Place the herbs on a paper plate lined with paper towel. Start with one to two minutes at the top. Repeat for 30 seconds as needed until the herbs are brittle.
Store dried herbs in an airtight plastic or glass jar.
Keep enjoying these garden-fresh flavors all season long. And consider saving a few for yourself, family and friends to enjoy throughout the winter.
Melinda Myers has written over 20 gardening books, including the recent Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening.
She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD instant video series and the nationally broadcast television and radio show Melinda’s Garden Moment. Myers is a columnist and editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.