Benefits Of Harvesting At The Correct Time
No matter why you grow herbs, they are usually harvested for one reason or another. Like flowers or vegetables, herbs also have optimal times for harvest, and depending on the part needed, these times differ. Here are the guidelines for harvesting each part of an herb, and some tips for the best harvest possible.
Most common, herbal leaves are the part of herbs that we are actually using for cooking and seasoning purposes. Medicinal herbs are often referring to the use of the leaves as well. There is a best time for picking these leaves, so they contain the essential oils that actually make up the flavor and medicinal components.
The fresh leaves of herbs can be picked any time during the herb's growth. These leaves are to be used immediately, for a recipe or fresh tea for instance.
When harvesting herbal leaves for drying purposes, collect them in the morning after the dew has dried from the plant, but before the heat of the sun has warmed the plant too much. This ensures that you get the most essential oils right in the leaves themselves.
Harvest when the leaves are young, and harvest often. As the plant remains in the growth stage, this is when the leaves are the most flavorful as well.
Leaves from the evergreen type herbs, such as rosemary and thyme, can be harvested just before flowering for the most flavor.
When the entire herb plant is desired (often referred to as aerial parts, unless the roots are also needed), the best time to harvest, is right before the plant is about to flower. Usually, the plant will not have enough energy to regrow again, so take this into consideration, when harvesting the majority of plant growth in one area. If harvesting a wild growth of herbs, and the whole plant is needed, it is a good habit to harvest no more than 1/3 of the plants.
Flowers are the most delicate part of an herbal harvest. They can decay faster than the gardener can get back to the house on a hot day, especially if the flowers are piled into a container and become too warm.
It is best to collect flowers during the middle of the day, and especially on a day that is dry. Avoid any flowers that have any amount of damage or decay, and do not collect spent flowers. Once picked, move the flowers from the harvest container, to your drying area as quickly as possible to avoid bruising.
Seeds and Fruit
When harvesting herbal seeds, choose a dry day, just before the seed is ready to be dispursed. Seeds should no longer be green, brown or black is the signal that a seed has ripened enough. Seeds should also be hard and often have a dry pod surrounding the actual seed.
Personally, seeds are the most difficult for me to harvest. They require intense patience to not harvest too early, yet one has to study and examine the herbs on a daily-sometimes even more often that that, basis.
Herbal roots are harvesting in the Fall, when they are full of the plant's energy. Roots are some of the most powerful of the herbal parts, and the gardener has to pay for them in effort. Make no mistake; Harvesting roots is work. It takes a commitment on the part of the gardener, but there are a few tricks to help make it a little bit easier.
Roots are to be dug up whole. This takes careful digging and some muscle. Roots can be loosened using a garden spade, that is pressed and lifted all around the base of the herb plant. By the time the final section is lifted, usually the herbal root has been lifted free. Remove the section that is required, and replant the excess. Once again, it is good manners to only harvest part of the entire root system.
If harvesting from someone else's land, contact the land owner and get permission before digging. It is prudent to let them know that you are actually harvesting the roots, and will be digging up holes, but will be replacing the soil as you go. It can be disconcerting to see someone haul out a garden spade, and start hacking away at your property when you are not expecting it.
Fresh roots should washed and cut while they are soft enough to work with. Dried roots can be tough as rocks (no exaggeration), when fully dried. Treat them gently, but thoroughly as soon as you can.
Herbal bark is an important part of the herbal harvest. Since harvesting bark can result in the demise of the tree, it is imperative that the harvest is done correctly. Never peel bark from any tree in a complete ring around the trunk. This will cut off the food supply to the tree, and it will die.
Bark is harvested during damp days, and usually from young branches or young trees. Even if there seems to be plenty of herbal tree growth, continue to harvest as little bark as you need to ensure the future of the stand.
Many herbalists harvest bark from trees that have already been cut down. If you are unable to find such a tree, it is environmentally kind to buy from herbal suppliers who harvest ethically.