In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
June, 2012
Regional Report

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Herbs grown in a large container with artichoke are easily harvested.

Harvesting Herbs

Herbs can be harvested for fresh and dry use from early spring through early winter. In the early spring, the herb foliage is succulent. In late spring and summer, the heat develops the fragrant oils for which the herbs are cherished. To best capture this richness, harvest herbs in the morning just as dew dries and flowers have not yet fully opened. Oils, flavors, and fragrances are then at their most potent but still locked within the foliage, ready to be released when you use them. Later in the day, when the fragrance is in the air, the oils have already been released. Don't cut the stems too close to the ground; leave two or three inches of leafed branch for continued growth.

Herb branches can be dried by laying them in loose layers or gathering them into bunches for hanging. Either way, cover them with paper toweling to protect them from dust. For hanging, separate the cuttings into one- or two- inch loosely tied bunches. Hang these in a dark, dry place that is a bit cooler than room temperature. Placing the bunches in a paper bag will keep off the dust but still allow drying. When the leaves are crisp and brittle, strip the leaves, buds, and flowers from the woody stem, trying not to crumble the leaves. Place these into a tightly closed jar set in a cool, dark, dry place. After a few days, check the contents for mold, mildew, moisture, or other problems.

Some herbs, such as basil, parsley, and chives, turn dark when air-dried. Rather than bunching and tying these herbs, lay the separated branches on heavy brown paper and dry them in a 150-degree oven (leaving the door slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape) for several hours. They will retain a measure of their green color. Test for doneness by crushing a larger-sized leaf: if it does not crumble easily, more drying is necessary.

Some herbs keep their essence better when frozen. These include basil (although it discolors), chervil, dill, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, French tarragon, garden and lemon thyme, and lemon verbena. To prepare these herbs for freezing, wash them thoroughly and shake or pat off the excess water. There are several different procedures for the freezing, and some are preferred over others for specific herbs. Garlic and shallots, for example, should be peeled and chopped before freezing. Chervil, dill, sweet marjoram, rosemary, summer and winter savory, tarragon, and thyme can be frozen on their stems, while leaves of others should be snipped off and the stems discarded.

Here are some freezing methods to try:

1) Place the whole branches into plastic bags and freeze immediately.

2) Chop the leaves finely into ice cube trays, fill with water, and freeze. Empty the cubes into a plastic bag for one-serving uses.

3) Puree basil leaves with just enough oil to moisten the mix, and freeze in one-serving portions. Prepare and freeze a complete recipe for pesto for convenient spur-of-the-moment uses. For someone who prefers a less-pungent pesto, a combination of basil and parsley or coriander may be used.


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