When you think of herbs, you probably don’t consider harvest time, since most gardeners clip herbs throughout the growing season for culinary use. But as the end of the summer nears, and the first frost threatens to kill less hardy herbs, consider clipping the remaining leaves for drying, freezing, or preserving in oils and infusions.
Herbs can be either annual or perennial, and some behave differently in different growing zones. Perennials should come back each spring and they require very little care during growing or dormant seasons. Annuals can be dug out of the ground and potted in containers to extend their seasons in a sunny windowsill.
Some perennials, like parsley and chives, will continue growing well into the chilly temperatures, and they’ll be among spring’s first sprouters, too. The more tender-leaf varieties like cilantro, marjoram or the mint family will wilt as the temps fall. However, their remaining leaves shouldn’t go to waste.
Most herbs can be dried for kitchen use and some are as flavorful in cooked dishes as fresh cut. Oregano, especially Greek oregano, is slightly less bitter when used dried, which is the method preferred by many chefs. Dried chives have a much more sweet, delicate, and less sharp flavor. Many small-leaved herbs can be dried in a day or two in the sun or in a food dehydrator. For chives, snip or cut into 1/8-inch pieces and store in a light-blocking, airtight container for use up to a year. Most other herbs have leaves that will break into perfect shaker-size bits when pinched off of the dried stems and crumbed between fingers or in a plastic bag.
Dill usually dies out before the end of summer but the remaining ferny leaves can be used dried, as long as they’re stored in airtight jars. Again, most chefs prefer to cut dill into small 1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces. Dill seeds are a pungent staple in many baking recipes and often they’re dried to perfection in the sun and only need to be shaken off the dead flower tops. Stalky herbs like rosemary and lavender are commonly left in the ground, unharvested, to add interest to winter landscapes.
If you choose to cut lavender back in the fall, cut close to the ground. Bunches of dried lavender stalks look great in a tall vase and add a clean fragrance to any room. Or, the flower heads can be pinched off of the stalks and used in sachet bags, potpourris or teas.
Citrus-scented herbs like lemon thyme or lemongrass dry easily and not only add a nice bright flavor to chicken, lamb, and vegetables, but they also smell fantastic as they cook. Like most herbs, whatever spikes or leaves remain on the plant at the end of summer can be cut back, brought in and stored in the refrigerator for several days up to a couple of weeks, or dried immediately and stored for months to provide fresh-tasting recipes all winter long.
Happy gardening from GHS.