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Cooking With Herbs / Growing Herbs /
/ Storing Herbs
Growing your own herbs is not that
difficult. You can either start with seeds or buy a few herb plants. You can
plant them outside after the last day of frost in the spring in a ground bed.
You can also grow them in a container either inside or outside. Just make sure
they get plenty of sun and are planted in well-drained soil. Many herbs are
drought-tolerant, but grow best when kept
moist, but not too wet.
Annual herb plants - like anise, basil,
chamomile, chervil, chervil, cilantro, dill, garlic, sweet marjoram and summer
savory - only live for one season. They will grow into full
plants that produce flowers and then seeds within one growing year.
Biennial herbs - like caraway, chicory and parsley -live for two years. They will grow during one season and produce flowers
and seeds in the next season.
Perennials - like chives, lavender, mints, oregano,
rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme - can grow over a number of years. They might
not always survive harsh winters though.
Annual herb plants will last a bit longer if you snip the flowers
as they form. If you allow the plant to seed however, the seeds can turn into
new plants for the next season. When perennial herbs flower, you can choose to
either cut them back or allow them to flower. Once the flowers are spent, you
can cut the entire herb plant back by about one-third to prepare it for the next
growing cycle. All herb flowers are edible. You can sprinkle them on salads or
put them in other dishes.
The best time to harvest herbs is in
the early morning, just after the dew has evaporated and before the heat of the
day. You can harvest them the
day you are going to need them for cooking. Use sharp scissors to cut the stems.
Never cut the leaves and never pull leaves off a plant.
Basil and mint can be cut
at a point just above a leaf pair on the stem. Chervil, chives, cilantro, dill
and parsley can be cut at the base (where the stems emerge from the ground).
Most other herbs can be cut at any point on the upper third of the stems,
leaving about two thirds of the plants intact.
If you are planning on drying herbs (see
Drying Herbs), it is best to harvest them
right as the first flower buds appear. That's when the leaves contain
the most oil.
If you are planning on harvesting the seeds - like
anise or coriander seeds - you should allow the plant to mature fully
and not harvest the leaves or branches. When the seed heads are turning
brown, you can cut them off the plant. You can then dry the seed heads
(see Drying Herbs), remove the seeds and
store them in an airtight container.
It is best to stop harvesting perennial herbs about one month before the
frost starts. Annual herbs can be harvested until frost. After you
harvest them, you should rinse them off with cool water. Gently shake
some of the water off and let them drain on paper towels.