Herbs may be the most versatile plants on earth. Of course, they’re unsurpassed for spicing up virtually any dish, but herbs offer much more than seasoning.
The seeds, leaves, and even roots of culinary herb plants are power-packed ingredients outside the kitchen, too. Hard-working herbs can be used as natural cleansers and disinfectants. Some herbs can brighten a room with their scent. Others add natural beauty to crafts and gifts.
Part of the appeal of herbs is their intense fragrance and flavor. There are rich choices of formulas that will
help you get the most from your herb garden. But before you can use them to their best potential, you need to know how to harvest and store herbs.
Harvesting and storing fresh herbs
There’s nothing like the luxury of knowing that you have a supply of fresh herbs growing just steps away from the kitchen. Because nothing beats the flavor of just-picked herbs, the best time to harvest
herbs is when you need them! However, if it’s more convenient to plan ahead, early in
the day is the best time for harvesting. Head out to the garden with sharp scissors or clippers just after the morning dew has evaporated.
Unless it’s time to harvest the whole plant, think of harvesting as pruning the plant for continued growth. Clip off up to one-fourth of the plant by pruning the tips or cutting off whole stalks that detract from the plant’s appearance.
If you won’t be using the herbs right away, shake off any surface dirt and submerge the stalks upright in a glass of water. To store for longer than a day, place the glass in a plastic bag, tie it loosely with a twist-tie, and refrigerate. Alternately, you can wrap the cuttings in a damp paper towel and enclose the bundle in a plastic bag. Either way, most herbs will stay fresh for up to three days when refrigerated.
To prepare fresh herbs for cooking, snip the leaves from the stalk with scissors, allowing the leaves to fall onto a cutting board. Then mince the leaves with a sharp knife. You can also roll a small handful of the herb into a ball and use sharp scissors to cut the herbs into fine pieces. You can use a food processor to chop large amounts of herbs but if you try this method, take care not to over-process the herbs or you’ll end up with green mush.
You can use fresh herbs in place of dried herbs in any recipe. Simply increase the amount of dried herb that’s called for with two- to three-fold that amount of fresh herb. This takes into consideration the loss of water in dried herbs: As herbs dry, their Flavor becomes concentrated. In most recipes, it’s best to add either fresh or dried herbs in the last 15 minutes of cooking to retain the most delicate flavor.