The best time to harvest herbs is in the morning of a dry, sunny day after the dew has dried. Morning is the best time to harvest because the herb’s essential oils are at their peak. A dry, sunny day ensures that the herbs won’t have any excess moisture on them, which can cause problems such as spotting and mildew during drying. Leaf herbs such as oregano, thyme, and mints should be harvested just before the plants bloom, in late spring or early summer. If you begin harvesting herbs for drying early in the season, you can harvest more than once. As much as three-quarters of the season’s growth can be cut at a time, unless otherwise indicated in the plant description. Always harvest herbs with a knife or sharp scissors; otherwise you may uproot
If you’re harvesting leaves, always cut stems; they are much easier to dry, especially if you’re hanging them. If you’re using fresh herbs, cut them just before you brew, to preserve as much herb flavor as possible. Soft, delicate herbs like basil really should be used as soon as possible after picking; they can begin to brown in a few hours. Woody herbs like hyssop and rosemary can keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Most leaf herbs can be harvested throughout the season. Harvest annual herbs before frost kills them. Just pull annuals up by the roots late in the season. Cut perennials only up to a month before the first frost; otherwise they will be weakened going into winter. To be safe, plan your final harvest of perennial herbs six weeks before you expect frost.
The Homebrewer’s Garden by Joe and Dennis Fisher, published by Storey Publishing, www.storey.com, RRP £11.99.
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