Garden harvest is in full swing (quite a difference from just one year ago). For the best quality, harvesting should be done at the correct stage of plant development. Herbs, like other garden produce, have their peak time for flavor. Full-size leaves contain the maximum amount of volatile oils providing the greatest flavor and fragrance.
Anise should be harvested just as plants begin flowering. Basil leaves and shoots are taken as needed. Pinch off the flower buds to prevent flowering. Both flowers and leaves of borage can be cut as needed. Caraway seed heads should be harvested before they dry. Chives leaves can be cut as needed. Coriander stalks, also known as cilantro, are cut when seeds are ripe. Leaves can also be harvested as needed. Dill is an important herb for many gardeners. Leaves can be harvested as needed or allow the seed heads to reach full size before harvest. The best time to harvest fennel is when plants begin to flower. For the longest storage of garlic, harvest the bulbs after the leaves have dried. Lavender leaves can be taken as needed; the flowers should be harvested when in full bloom. Lemon balm, lemon verbena, marjoram, oregano, and parsley leaves can be harvested as needed. Peppermint and spearmint sprigs and young leaves can be harvested as needed. Rosemary, sage, summer savory, tarragon, and thyme leaves and shoots are harvested as needed.
Herb use in the kitchen is becoming increasingly popular. Anise leaves are used in salads; seeds are used in cookies and pastries. Basil flavors soups, stews, salads, and various Italian dishes. Borage flowers are used in drinks, salads, and desserts. Caraway leaves are used in salads; seeds are used in breads, cakes, and soups. Crushed cilantro seeds are used in meat sauces, pickles, cookies, breads. The leaves are used in soups, salads, stews, and stir-fry dishes. Dill leaves are used in vegetables, fish, dips, and soups. Cheese, eggs and pickles can be flavored with the seedheads of dill. Seeds flavor soups, gravies, vegetables, and vinegars. Hyssop leaves are used in soups, meats, teas, and stuffing. Lavender leaves and flowers add a special flavor to vinegars and salads. Peppermint leaves can be added to ice cream or fruit cocktails. Scented geranium leaves are used in desserts, puddings, stuffing, punches and vinegars. This is a very brief listing of the numerous herbs available. Gather herbs early in the morning after the foliage has dried but before the sun is hot. Cut annual herbs back to 4 to 6 inches from the ground with a sharp knife or pruning shears. This will allow enough remaining plant to provide later growth. On perennial herbs, remove only about 1/3 of the top growth at a time.
This article originally appeared in the July 22, 1994 issue, p. 116.