Herbs for culinary and medical purposes have been used for centuries, and the specifics greatly depend upon culture and area of the globe. Some green plants can be consumed only fresh, while others can also be useful when preserved in a dry or frozen form. The secrets of collecting, drying and storing herbs are passed on from generation to generation of healers, as well as ordinary people.
The harvesting moment is vital to the quality of the thus obtained remedy. We speak here both about the right time during the day, and about the stage in the plant’s life cycle. Early morning, right after disappearance of the dew is the most favorable time for harvesting herbs if you intend to preserve them. You will thus seize all their freshness.
Although generally the best moment to collect the herbs is before flowering, some plants must be harvested while still in their bud stage or when flowers are already in full display. When the root is the part you intend to preserve, the fall is the season to harvest it. With horseradish, for instance, you will have to wait until after the first or second frost.
The first thing after having collected the herbs is to wash them in order to remove any dust, tiny bugs, soil fertilisers or other types of pesticides. It is better to perform this action while the leaves and flowers are still attached to the stem, using running cold water. If you intend to freeze them, boiling water is recommended. Consequently, place the herbs on absorbent paper and dry them thoroughly. Some plants require sun drying, while with others direct light must be avoided. In any case, humidity is not beneficial during this stage. The best option to speed the drying process is to gather small bundles and place them in well ventilated corners in an upside down position so that the essential oils contained by the stem flow towards the leaves and not out of the stem.
Storing conditions are vital for the herbs' preservation. Dark warm places are recommended. Temperatures should not go under 20 degrees celsius, but not rise above 25 either. Once they are completely dry, the leaves can be detached from the stem and then put into airtight jars. They must be frequently checked during the first week or two for any signs of moisture that could damage the entire crop. If such cases appear, the whole drying procedure must be repeated. If you want to make sure the plants are totally dry, you can put them in the oven for a few minutes before filling the jars.
These are just a few general considerations on collecting, drying and storing herbs. However, specific rules must be respected for each type of plant in order to ensure the quality of the preservation. Next time one of your herbs is growing wild, why not try preserving it rather than letting it die off and go to waste.