Being able to properly harvest and preserve your herbs after planting them is a very important part of creating your own herbal pharmacy. Below are all the steps you can take to easily preserve your medicinal herbs.
Step 1.) Harvesting
For flowering herbs like calendula, rose and lavender; harvest just before the flowers open. You should do your harvesting on a dry day in the morning just after the dew has evaporated. Harvest flowering herbs with stems, to make drying easier. You can separate them once they have sufficiently dried.
For leafy herbs like basil and oregano; harvest before they begin to flower. Do this harvesting on a dry morning as well. When you harvest, cut each stem just above where it meets the main stalk.
For fruiting plants like elderberries, you would definitely want to harvest them when they are ripe. This will depend on the type of fruit it is, so be sure you keep your eyes open if you have multiple fruiting plants you want to use. Harvest simply by picking the fruits off.
For roots like ginger, marshmallow, and turmeric; harvest at the end of their growth cycle. This will also vary by plant, so make sure you know what’s what when your plants have begun to go dormant. When you’re ready to harvest, you just dig up the root and set it aside for preservation!
For seeds like fennel and flax, wait for the seeds to fully mature before harvesting. Make sure they are still on the plant when harvested, so you can take advantage of them while they are still intact and the most potent.
Step 2.) Preservation of Herbs
Small flowers can be dried whole, while larger flowers should have the petals carefully separated for best drying results. Lay out your petals and flowers on clean tea towels or paper towels in a room with good circulation and low sunlight. It is important that they be laid out in one layer without any overlap to avoid making a big compost pile. Turn and check on them throughout the day, to make sure they are drying properly.
Like flowers, some leafy herbs can be dried whole; while others do better with their leaves removed and laid out. For leaves alone, you use the same technique as you would with the flowers above. For whole stalks, you can gently tie them together by the stems in little bundles. Then, you hang these bundles upside-down until the herbs dry. You will want to keep your hanging herbs in a similar, if not the same place as your laid out herbs—High circulation, and indirect sunlight.
Fruits can be most easily preserved by drying or freezing. When freezing or drying fruits, it is best to remove the skins and seeds from larger kinds, as well as chop them into chunks or slices. However, for smaller fruits like berries, you can simply wash and freeze/dry as they are. Just make sure you choose fruits that are ripe and not bruised or damaged in any way, so that they will last as long as possible and retain their nutrients. To dry fruits, you can use your oven or a dehydrator to dry them out. For dehydrators, you would simply follow the instructions that came with it. If you want to use your oven, however, there is an easy way to do it… Preheat your oven to the lowest temp it has—this should be under two hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Then lay your fruit out in one layer on a nonstick, oven-safe tray. Place in the oven and leave it alone until your fruit is completely dried out.
The best way to preserve roots is to freeze them and grate off what you want as needed. However, it is important that they be frozen in a vacuum sealed bag or container. This maintains their freshness longer, and keeps them from developing freezer burn over time.
As long as bugs and moisture are completely kept away from seeds, they are the easiest to store. You can simply air dry your seeds of any moisture the same way you would flowers and leaves; then place them in airtight containers. Keep seeds in a cool, dry place for most long-lasting results.
Step 3.) Storage
This is the simplest part of the whole process! Whatever you freeze can stay frozen, and anything you dried out simply needs to be kept in airtight containers in cool, dry places. Check on your stores often to make sure mold or pests have not taken hold, and enjoy creating your very own personal preservation paradise!