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  • Northeast Wisconsin
  • August 2018
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Harvesting and preserving herbs

All summer long you have been growing mysterious herb plants in your garden. You walk by them and admire their green growth, see a few send out some pretty flowers, bend down and rub a few leaves to take in the delicious scent that each one has to offer, and maybe even pick some chives or basil to add to dinner. But what do we do with all of these plants besides let them go to seed and enjoy them again next year?

Most people grow herbs for culinary purposes and most people use them fresh in the summer, but you can preserve these herbs so you can enjoy their flavors all year long.

August is the peak time for most herbs. They are in the height of their growing season. When clipping your plant to get the leaves that you want to harvest, you will want to leave at least half of the plant still intact so that it can replenish itself. Most herbs can withstand a good haircut at least three times during the summer.

Drying herbs is the easiest method and very effective.

There are a few different methods:

  • Bunch your herbs into small bundles (making sure air can flow through them to avoid molding in the middle), tie them at the base with rubber bands, flip one loop of the rubber band around a common plastic closet hanger. You can hang at least four bunches on each hanger. Hang the hanger in a dark, dry place with lots of air flow.
  • When drying flower heads or individual leaves, you can place them on a screen or in a basket as long as there is decent air flow and it is not in the sun.
  • In cases of dense herbs, like basil, that don’t dry well when left out in the open, you can use a dehydrator or an oven that has been heated, turned off, and then the herbs put on a baking sheet with the oven door left open. When using these dehydrating methods, be sure to keep an eye on them, you don’t want to overcook your herbs.
  • You can also freeze-dry your herbs! Lay them out on a baking sheet and put in the freezer until frozen, then transfer to a freezer bag. Most people store their herbs and spices near the stove for convenience, but in actuality, that is the worst place to store herbs. Light and heat destroy herbs, so make sure to keep herbs away from these. Store your herbs in a dark airtight container when they are fully dry.
  • I prefer to keep my herbs stored as whole as possible and crumble them right before use. The smaller the pieces, the more surface area exposed to air, and they release their essential oils while being stored. So I like to crush and bruise them right before use to release their oil, scent and flavor right into what I’m making.

Dried herbs are great for teas also. Preserve your bounty to make delicious hot herbal teas all winter long especially if you are growing medicinal herbs. You will appreciate your efforts when cold and flu season comes around and you can go to your cupboard and pull out some jars of peppermint, yarrow and red clover.

Happy preserving! 

Caution: Always make sure you have correctly identified any plants you will be consuming.

Melissa Aurora Adlebush

Melissa Aurora Adlebush is the president of the Fox Valley Herb Society, and was the state champion of plant identification in 2004. She studied Botany and Ethnobotany at Northland College, Ashland. She teaches many classes all over the state. Melissa is Herbalist and Owner of Aurora’s Apothecary where she grows most of the herbs that are put into their products. Aurora’s Apothecary is located at 1607 Richmond St, Appleton. For more information, call 920-430-7846 or visit

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