In Your Garden with Jenny Watts Harvesting Herbs Herbs are plants with many uses.

They are used for cooking, medicine, aromatherapy, pest control and fragrant potpourris. Usually the leaves and stems are used, but sometimes the flowers, fruit and even the roots contain the desired substances. It is important to be sure that you have the right plant before you use it for culinary or medicinal uses. Common names are often misleading, since the same common name may be given to different plants. All herbs are toxic in excess, so be careful about self-medication. Herbs should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. Most herbs can be cut and used fresh throughout the growing season. Herbs grown for their foliage, such as sage, oregano, rosemary, tarragon and basil, should be gathered when the flowers are about to open. The oils in the leaves, which give each herb its distinctive flavor and aroma, are at their maximum levels at this stage of growth. Remove up to 1/3 of the stem’s length. Cut basil frequently, 6-8 inches down the stem. This will keep it bushy and prevent it from flowering. You should get many cutting through the summer. In the fall, you can cut the plants at ground level before the first frost. Harvest herbs grown for seeds just before the seed heads turn brown so that the seeds don't fall off while cutting them. Cilantro, if left to go to seed, is called coriander. Dill and fennel are also grown for their seeds. Collect herb flowers, such as borage and chamomile, just before full flower. Harvest herb roots, such as echinacea, chicory, comfrey, and goldenseal, in the fall after the foliage fades. Herbs should be harvested in the early morning, after the dew has evaporated and before the sun becomes too hot. After harvesting, rinse the herbs in cool water. Shake off excess water and place them on paper toweling to dry for a few minutes. Air drying is the most popular method used to dry herbs. Gather 8 to 12 stems in a bunch, tie the ends of the stems together and hang each bunch upside down in a warm (70-80°F), dry, shady area. Herbs grown for seed can be dried on screens or inside brown paper bags. The herbs should be dry in 2 to 4 weeks. When thoroughly dry, strip the leaves or seeds from the plants, and store in them in airtight jars in a cool, dry place. Store dried herbs in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. Many herbs can be keep for a year if stored properly. You can make a potpourri mixture of dried herbs and flower petals to preserve the aromatic fragrances of summer. Most potpourris start with rose petals or lavender flowers as a base, to which other dried herbs are added. By growing your own herbs, you can spice up your cooking with fresh, flavorful tastes and freshen a room with the delightful perfumes of summer.

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