We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, herbs are really quite easy to grow. But, it’s also quite easy to find that you have a herb plant producing lots of lovely fragrant leaves for you to use and you simply don’t use them because there are so many, or maybe you miss the boat and suddenly your basil plant starts flowering and it’s too late. So, if you want to get the most out of your herb plants, knowing how to harvest them and store them is important.
Most herbs will produce leaves quite happily for a while before they start flowering. Once they flower and start producing seeds, the flavour of the leaves changes slightly, often becoming more bitter, and you may find you don’t want to use them at this point. It’s at the moment that the buds are beginning to form that the flavour is at it’s very best.
The goal with most herb plants is to keep it nice and bushy so that it produces lots of leaves. Regular picking of perennials (rosemary, lavender, sage, oregano, marjoram, mint, lemon balm etc) and a little light pruning here and there will help to do this, promoting strong healthy growth. When pruning, just cut off a sprig at the base using scissors.
For annuals, like basil and coriander, it’s important to keep picking the leaves – and for basil, if it starts to flower you can cut the stems back to leave a few baby leaves growing near the base, it will keep growing, but you must leave those baby leaves there or there will be nothing for it to grow with. Coriander will inevitably bolt – when it does, don’t get rid of it, wait and harvest the seeds when they form… they are delicious in curries.
You might find that with this light pruning and regular picking you have more herbs than you can use in the kitchen. To make them last longer, you can put any sprigs in a jug of water and keep in a cool place out of direct sunlight. They will keep well for a few days. Do this as soon as you pick them so that the stems don’t seal (or cut off half a cm at the stem before putting in water). Make sure you change the water when it changes colour and this will help them last even longer. You could also use a few sprigs in a flower arrangement along with cut flowers.
A lot of people like to dry their herbs out to store them, but in our humble opinion this just doesn’t retain their flavour and you’re better off picking the leaves and making a chimichurri style sauce, or making a herb butter or herb crust and freezing it. We’ve got a whole blog post explaining how to do this.
If you have a small handful of leaves to store for a few days, make sure they are dry and then pop them in a freezer bag (don’t seal it) and into the fridge.They’ll keep for a few days, but be warned, the flavour will not be as good.