The next three posts will continue on with the gardening theme. I hope the Herbal Garden Sprays post helped you maintain and protect your plants as best as possible. Soon it’ll be time to harvest, dry and store your hard earned crop and that is what I am dedicating the next three posts to.
Harvesting herbs is an ongoing process. Different plants have different requirements, some you can pick at while dormant, others like a good cutting back to produce a second crop. In this post I will be a bit generic to give an overview of harvesting different plant materials without going into details for for every plant.
Time of day:
Choose a fine, sunny morning to do your harvesting, early enough that the heat of the sun has not yet caused the volatile oils to dissipate but late enough that there is no more moisture from dew or rain on the plant. If the plants get too hot you will lose too much goodness and if picked wet they go mouldy before properly dried.
Leaves will be at their most potent before flowering as all the plants energy went into the stems. Once flowers form the energy is shared.
Pick small leafed herbs by the stem and strip them off later. Larger leaves can be picked individually. Only keep the best leaves to dry and store. Dead and discoloured leaves can contribute to the making of compost.
Flowers should be cut either just before or shortly after opening. They are best while their colour and scent are at their best and before their petals have dropped. Pick flowers individually, some like lavender are picked with a long piece of stem attached whereas others just the actual ‘head’ is carefully picked off. For some you may wish to strip the petals and for other, often smaller flowers you will want to keep them whole to dry.
Seeds are harvested before they are ready to fall but after they have lost their green colour. They can go from green to ripe very quickly so you have to keep a close eye on them before they start to spread. Collect the whole ‘head’ and retrieve the individual seeds later. If you think you are going to lose the seeds you can tie some paper or muslin around the ‘head’ before they are ripe.
Roots are best harvested later in the growing year when the plant is dormant while leave growth is at a minimum. When cutting roots you may wish to leave a portion in the ground so the plant can regenerate in spring. Some herbs, like comfrey, dont need much encouragement for regrowth and will return with even the smallest bit of root left in the ground.
Bulbs like onion and garlic are dug up in late summer or early autumn. You can usually tell that they are ready for harvest by the green parts above ground having dropped to the ground and turned brown.
Make sure you dont strip bark from very young trees and do not ‘ring bark’ which means stripping bark all the way around the trunk. Do not take too much bark from the same tree as this might kill it. Use sharp and clean tools and keep your cuts 1m/3ft above ground. Lastly, do not harvest from endangered or protected species.
Be sure the plant you pick is the plant you think it is. Correct identification is vital – your life may depend on it. f you have any doubt, leave them where they are. Check the environment, there is no point picking in areas that are subjected to heavy pollution or exposed to pesticidesI. Many wild plants are protected by law, educate yourself about the rules of wildcrafting in your local area. Do not over pick, leave some to spread for future harvest and to maintain growth in the area.
I wish you a bumper crop and will be back shortly showing you how to dry your herbal bounty