Herbs make life just that bit more pleasant. They will seduce you into wanting more and more in your own garden. Use them in beverages, cooking or to add a little bit of fragrant panache around the home. Even in a rental home, you can still have your own herb garden in pots. They’re quite easy to grow, needing little dedicated attention for a truly delightful return. Depending on what your goal is, you don’t need a huge amount of harvest-able foliage for a valuable end result. Just make sure the growing herbs, whether potted or in-ground, are easily accessible to the cook! It’s often too much trouble to go all the way down to the back fence for a few fresh herbs, so put your edibles where they can thrive and be quickly and easily accessed; that way they’ll be used!
Let’s start at the beginning.
What do you enjoy the most? The type of flavour where fresh is best, like Chives, Parsley, Mint, Rosemary or Sage? Start with something you like to use to liven up your meals. If you like herbal teas, there are so many choices; Mints come in so many flavours, Chocolate Mint; Mexican Mint for a hint of heat; Spearmint also makes exceptional mint sauce; or Lemon or Lime Balm for a refreshing pick-me-up when you’re feeling unwell. Then there’s Lovage and Yarrow, Tansy, Echinacea and Rue for the more adventurous herb users. If fragrance is your choice, something like Lavender; or Eau de Cologne Mint which is reminiscent of 4711 Eau de Cologne; perhaps a scented geranium might suit you. Many herbs have so many uses, they will steal your heart with their ability to enhance your life.
I won’t go into how to grow your herbs, except to include location for ease of access and to say to trust yourself and your innate knowledge of growing things. Oh, and to research reputable information sites. You will, of course, need to know the name of the plant and whether it’s edible or not. Never use an unidentified plant as a food source – never – it’s not worth the risk. If you aren’t sure if a plant is safe to eat or not, don’t. If you want to grow edibles, buy from a reputable nursery or seed supplier. For established gardens do some research, even if you have to take a section of your plant to a garden nursery or agricultural expert. The internet has a multitude of photographs to help too, but if you’re not sure, get an expert opinion, just make sure they really are an expert in that area.
When you’ve decided what you’re starting your herb garden with, you’ll need to obtain it and grow it sufficiently to have enough foliage to harvest. There is such a joy in growing and using your own produce, no matter how small the harvest. Each season the herbs will entice you with their fragrances and flavours, seducing you into using them in more and varied ways in your home.
Preparing for Harvest
In the days before I plan to harvest a plant for drying, I will gently wash the whole plant with the hose, making sure to dislodge any debris that has caught in the foliage. Doing this means the leaves will be clean to use and is especially important for edible plants. If needed, I’ll move the plant the night before harvesting to a place where I know it will be clean and dry for the morning harvest. To prevent mould while drying, it’s important that the foliage is dry for harvesting.
I prefer to harvest my plants in the early morning, preferably before the morning sun has hit them. After the sun hits them, the aromatics can be released into the air rather than being kept in the foliage and we don’t want to lose those enticing essential oils.
I chose Lavender for this tutorial because it was ready to harvest, it’s easy to see in photos, and it’s fragrance is lovely and relaxing.
Lavender: Harvesting, Drying and Using – Step by Step:
Step 1: To harvest the lavender flowers, you’ll need a clean, sharp pair of secateurs or scissors and something to carry the gathered flowers; some rubber bands, paper clips and ribbon. Hold the flower firmly in one hand while cutting the stem with the scissors in the other hand. The stem should be as long as possible, I prefer to cut just above the leafy stalk to allow for more blooms later in the season. With lavender, as with many herbs, taking the flower in this way will often cause two more shoots to branch out from the cut stalk. Do this with each flower you intend to harvest, placing them in your basket or tray.
Step 2: Your gathered flowers should look something like those pictured, you may have more, or maybe less. Handle them with care to get the best result from the dried flowers. Sort them carefully into sections of similar stem length to make the final arrangements easier to do until you become more practised at it.
Step 3: Holding the stems firmly but carefully, begin making what will be the final arrangements in your left hand (non-dominant hand). Put longer stemmed flowers down first, this will be the back of your arrangement. Place shorter and shorter stemmed flowers on top of these, keeping them neat and the stems even at the base. If all stems are long, arrange the flower heads in layers and trim the stems when arranged to your tastes.
Step 4: When you have enough in your bunch, not too many, not too few, take a rubber band and wrap it multiple times around the stem near the base. Make it tight enough that the stems won’t fall out as they wither, but not so tight as to cut through them. Continue making bunches to suit your aesthetic until all the flowers are used. Trim the bases of the stalks to neaten if desired.
Step 5: Pictured are some prepared bunches ready to hang. To finish, tie a piece of ribbon around the lavender stems, covering the rubber bands. Tie a bow or leave the ends loose.
Step 6: Use the paper clips as a hanger. Pull the larger side out slightly, twist them around to make a double sided hook, then ease the shorter end under the rubber bands to make a hook to hang them upside down with. The hook is hidden behind the stems. You can hang them to dry, then take the dried flowers from the stalks for pot pourri.
Step 7: Alternatively you can use them as they are while the fragrance is fresh and place them as they are in areas of your home where you’d like to feel relaxed and nurtured. Do please note that as the flowers dry, seeds will fall out littering the surface they rest upon.
(c) 2014 All Rights Reserved Ryllandra Rose
Images: Ryllandra Rose