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Cut in mornings for most-intense flavors HEALTHY HERB HARVESTING

Published: Thu, August 1, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Sheila Cubick

OSU Ext. Master Gardener Volunteer

One of the joys of gardening is using your fresh produce. Whether you use it fresh or process it for winter, the smell and flavor of homegrown herbs is delectable. Unlike some vegetables, herbs can be harvested throughout the growing season.

Herbs should be cut in the morning just after the dew has evaporated from the leaves. The oils in the leaves are running closest to the surface at this time and yield the most-intense flavors. Cut just as much as you can use in a day or two or that you can process to dry that day.

After cutting, gently swish herbs in a sink full of cool water. This will clean any dirt, insects, or debris from the leaves. Shake to dry, then gently pat the remaining water from the leaves. Be careful not to bruise the leaves of tender herbs such as basil. This releases the oils, which you want to stay in the leaves.

Cut the herbs using a sharp knife or snip with kitchen scissors until finely chopped, then add to your recipe. You may keep fresh herbs for up to a week by filling a glass with an inch of water and covering with a plastic bag. Put them in the refrigerator and change the water daily.

If drying your herbs, the best time to cut them is just before they flower when the oils are running close to the surface. The herbs will have the most-intense flavor when dried at this time. For some herbs this will be early spring, and for others it may be midsummer.

However, don’t despair if you missed the “perfect” time to harvest. You can still get a fragrant supply of dried herbs to use during the winter. Just adjust your amounts to compensate for less-intense flavors.

Once dried, store your herbs in dark, airtight containers. Light destroys the oils, so keep in a dark container or cupboard and prevent rehydration by using airtight seals. Store your herbs whole and crush with a mortar and pestle or wax paper and a rolling pin when you are ready to use them. This retains the oils and flavor longer since there are fewer edges from which they may escape.

When using dried herbs, use less than when using fresh; usually about 1 teaspoon dried to 1 tablespoon fresh since the oils are concentrated. For best flavor, use within six months to one year.

For more details visit go.osu.edu/harvestherbs.

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