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Harvesting

How you harvest depends on what you are harvesting and how you plan to use what you harvest. If you are adding to your salad or making a spaghetti sauce, you will harvest a few sprigs of what you need. Or you might be cutting the entire clump of certain plants a few inches above the ground. In my opinion, there are two important things to think about when you want to pick herbs: the time of day and the time of the season. The best time of day is on a sunny morning after the dew has dried. That's when the oil content is highest in the plants-I like to think of it as the energy of the plants is at its strongest. If you follow this rule of thumb, you'll pick when the flavor is best and the highest level of medicinal quality is available in the plants.

If you are harvesting leaves, peak time in the season is just before the plant flowers. That's because it takes a lot more energy to put out flowers than leaves and the energy of the plant is thus at its highest at that time of the year. When harvesting leaves, always cut the stems rather than stripping the leaves from the stems. Harvest only disease-free growth.

I harvest throughout the season as long as plant growth permits into the fall. Sometimes, time of the season for picking depends on the plants. You wouldn't want to wait until the end of the season to pick basil, catnip, parsley, or oregano. Why then you'd be eating Italian for a month straight and the cats would be jumping out of their skins. No, these herbs and others like chives, mints, sweet marjoram, sage, and thyme should be snipped as soon as they're established and are strong enough to continue growing vigorously. Be sure to trim off the flowers of basil as they appear to keep the plants from being flavorful and productive. At the end of the season and since it is an annual, harvest the entire plant before the first frost or a little before because basil really hates cold below 55F.

Coriander and dill are a different story. They bolt quickly or go to flower and seed before you've overdone the salsa and chips and that can be a real disappointment. I stagger my plantings of these herbs so I'll have a constant supply throughout the season. They need to be picked as soon as they are 6 to 10 inches tall. Be sure not to snip the main stem of dill plants or they will stop growing. Just snip dill off the sides of the stems.

For my Thai dishes, I let lemongrass form 4 to 6 bulbous stems before I harvest it. I snip the coarse leaves anytime. My alpine strawberries are no let down for special desserts. I love them because they bear fruit all season long. When the fruit is ripe and ready for harvest, I know the leaves are ready to pick, too.

Rosemary is pretty woody, so when I want the stems to branch to make the plants bushier, I just snip there! Then I strip the leaves from the snipped stem and add them to my marinade for grilled lambchops. The same holds true for my scented geranium plants. I don't like them leggy, so I cut them back after each fifth or sixth node or growth area between leaves to keep them bushy. Then I use the leaves for tea or I dry them for potpourri. Speaking of potpourri, lavender is one of my favorites for making into sachets. I snip the flower stems before they open and the leaves anytime.

St. John's wort comes into flower the last week of June. I wait until the flowers are fully open to use in my infused oils. Later, in the late fall, I cut the entire plant to within 2 inches of the ground to use in tea or make tinctures out of the leaves. Some other perennial herbs like chives, oregano, and mints can be treated this way also in the late fall, but tarragon, thyme, and all the sages wouldn't survive the winter if I touched them in the late fall. They would just be stimulated to grow and then they wouldn't be hardened off in time for the big freeze. The best time for the final harvest of perennials should be no later than 1 months before frost. If you are harvesting for seed, cut the stalks before seed begins to scatter.

Your harvest can be dried, frozen, or added to a preserving medium such as vinegar, butter, and oil.

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