SARONNO, Italy – It’s the first week in May and I’m getting ready to harvest my first crop of herbs. With all the rain we’ve had this spring I’ve got a bumper crop of sage, marjoram, thyme, oregano, Roman mint and rosemary growing on my kitchen balcony. I’ve stuck with woody perennials instead of tender annuals like basil and parsley not just because they don’t need to be planted every year, but also because they are the herbs I used the most.
|Basil from my garden|
Harvesting my herbs several times during the spring and summer months encourages the plants to grow and gives me enough herbs to last through the winter. And honestly, I’d rather use herbs I’ve grown myself than buy them pre-packaged in the grocery store. I know my herbs are from this year’s crop and pesticide free and have not been sitting around in a warehouse for who knows how long.
It’s a good idea to clean your herbs before you dry them. One easy way is to fill a large bowl (or your sink if you are cleaning a large amount), with cool, salted water. The salt water will drive out any tiny insects that may have found a home in your plants. Rinse them in clear water and spin them in a salad spinner and then blot them dry with paper towels. Then you can either lay them out on a clean dish towel or paper towels to dry, or do what I do which is tie them into a bundle and hang them upside down to dry.
|My herb garden|
When they are completely dry, which takes several weeks, you can strip the small leaves off of the stems and put them in jars. You can put a sheet of newspaper or baking paper and strip them on that. That way it is easier to pour the leaves into jars.
At the end of the season you can either cut your annuals, like summer savory, right down to the ground. They will reseed and comeback the next year. With woody perennials like sage or winter savory, it is best not to harvest the whole plant, but to leave about 2/3rds of it.
|Roman Mint makes artichokes sing|
Rosemary does well in a pot and if you live in an area where it gets really cold in the winter, you can bring them indoors and they will do well. Rosemary does like a cool, well lit location so don’t put the plant on a warm window sill. I don’t bother drying or storing rosemary because I find it easier to cut pieces of fresh rosemary when I need it.
I don’t grow basil or parsley as I find it easier to buy those two herbs at our outdoor market, and since they are so readily available I don’t bother drying and storing them. I do, however, put the bunches of parsley in a glass of water and keep it in the refrigerator until I need it. But apart from that, there is something uniquely satisfying about having my own little herb garden on my balcony and being able to go out there and cut what I need when I need it.
|Oregano, so small, and so tasty|
If you decide to try growing some herbs of your own this year, don’t waste your time starting them from seed. It’s easier to buy the plants and then replant them at home. Not everything works. I planted garlic this year and that was a complete failure. But I think I’ll try it again, maybe I just started it too early. Anyway, there is very little to lose and a lot to gain, even from a couple of plants on your windowsill.