Although harvesting and drying herbs are simple in theory, there are plenty of challenges to overcome and details to unpack along the way. How can you ensure your herbs won’t get moldy while drying? How much of the plant do you harvest at a time? When is the best time of day to harvest? Which method should you use to dry your herbs? And what about collecting seeds? We wanted to share with you some of our top tips for perfect herb harvesting and drying to help make your time in the garden more easy and relaxed! Read on to learn some essential tools for harvesting and drying herbs this growing season.
Although this one is simple in theory, it can be easy to forget. Always remember to ask the plant before you harvest it. This is a strong practice of intuition and truly honing in on the environment you are harvesting in. An essential part of wildcrafting herbs, it can also be helpful to practice this step when harvesting from your herb garden too. Simply sit with the plant you want to harvest for a moment and ask it if now is a good time to gather. Think of this step like a short meditation with the plant, feeling into if now is truly the “right time” to harvest.
If it’s super cloudy outside and your calendula blossoms are looking a little closed up, wait to harvest another day! When your herbs are at “peak potency,” they will look and feel ultra-vibrant. This means that the flowers are fully opened toward the sun with pristine petals, the leaves are healthy and flush, or the seeds/fruit are fully formed. Determining when is the optimal peak potency time will depend on the type of herb part you are harvesting and the current season. Roots, for instance, are always best harvested in the fall when the rest of the plant is done growing for the year and all of the plant’s energy drops back down into the roots. (Referencing a Biodynamic calendar can be a helpful resource here too!)
When determining how much of the aerial parts of an herb to harvest, it’s helpful to simply follow the nodes! For those who are new to the world of botany, nodes are the area of a plant where leaves and branches start to shoot off from the stem. If you wanted to harvest calendula blossoms for instance, instead of simply popping off only the flower, cut down to the first node on the plant. Then, when you are processing the herb to lay out and dry later, you can snip off this part of the stem and compost. Following the nodes, while you harvest helps ensure healthy regrowth of the herb so that you can get many more harvests throughout the season!
Instead of simply harvesting the entire herb when you go to gather from your garden, remember to let part of the plant stand go to seed! This way you can collect the seeds at the end of the season for continuing your herb garden next year. The amount of the herb stand you choose to let go to seed will depend on how large your plant stand is and how many seeds you need to collect for next year. BONUS: allowing part of the plant to continue flowering without being harvested is also great to ensure that your pollinators have adequate flowers to land on around your garden!
When it comes to drying herbs, proper airflow is key! An enclosed area can easily become overheated, too humid, or simply stagnant in airflow which both slows the drying process and can contribute to mold growth on herbs… Using drying racks that have proper ventilation (fine mesh screens or hanging mesh racks work great) and placing a fan or two next to your drying racks are simple ways to ensure proper airflow while drying herbs.
After harvesting your herbs, it is almost always essential to do some sort of processing before laying them out on the drying racks. Determining how much you should process an herb during this step can take some practice and experimentation from season to season. When in doubt, continue breaking up the herbs! Although it might be hard to cut up beautiful calendula, echinacea, or hollyhock blossoms at first, breaking up herbs like this into smaller pieces is essential to ensure that no mold forms during the drying process. Spread out the broken up herb pieces in a thin, non-overlapping layer on your drying rack.
There you have it! Some of our top tips for perfect herb harvesting and drying. Curious to learn more? We have a BIG selection of different herb gardening books for sale at the apothecary (which are all currently 15% off right now as well!) Be sure to check them out next time you come in for a visit.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Heather Saba is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. She sees clients both in-person and through Skype in the Alpine Botanicals clinic room and at her office in Boulder for one-on-one herbal + nutritional wellness sessions, including custom herbal formulations. Connect with her on her personal website (www.heathersaba.com) and Instagram (@heathersaba).