How to Grow, Care for, Harvest & Store Herbs

Overview

Herbs add flavor, color and healthy ingredients to salads, sauces, meats, breads, sandwiches, barbecues and just about any other recipe. Imagine salsa without cilantro or pesto sauce without basil, and the usefulness of herbs becomes clear. Herbs are rewarding to grow because most of them will tolerate poor soil and many of them will reseed themselves, making you the happy recipient of their bounty for seasons to come. All they need is a little water and lots of sun. They don't need much fertilizer and they store very well, either dried or frozen.

Growing, Caring For, Harvesting and Storing Herbs

Step 1

Plant young herb plants in a sunny spot in your garden. You needn't amend the soil with compost or manure if you're short of time, because most herbs are not particular about the soil in which they grow. Dig a hole large enough for the roots of the plant and then fill it in with more soil. Water well after you plant and allow the soil to dry before you water your herb again.

Step 2

Plant herbs in pots if you have a small yard or little time to build a garden. Use any standard potting soil and make sure your pots have drainage holes so roots don't become waterlogged and rot. Generally, herbs like it dry, but you'll need to water potted herb plants more often than plants in the ground.

Step 3

Harvest herbs when they begin to flower. Pinch off flowering tops with your fingers to encourage bushy growth. The flowers are fine to eat because they contain essential oils and are full of flavor. When fall arrives, pull annual herbs such as basil before the first frost. Leave perennial herbs in the ground or in their container because they will come back the following spring, even if they appear dead during the winter. You can harvest most of the foliage and flowers of perennial herbs such as rosemary in fall if you wish.

Step 4

Dry the flower spikes of herbs such as basil by tying several into bundles and hanging them from a clothesline in a warm, dark, dry, well-ventilated place like a garage. Dry loose leaves on a window screen propped up on boards or bricks in the same type of environment. After one to two weeks, rub the herbs between your hands---if they are dry, they will crumble.

Step 5

Freeze some herbs by mixing them with a little water in your blender. Fill ice cube trays with the slushy liquid and then transfer the frozen cubes to plastic zipper bags for later use. Examples of herbs that work well with this method include mint, which you can use in iced tea, and basil, which you can add to pasta sauce. You can also make pesto sauce with basil and freeze it in small plastic containers.

Step 6

Store dried herbs in plastic zipper bags or jars. Keep them in a cool, dark spot, such as a lower kitchen cupboard or a shelf in your garage. Always label the container so you'll remember what's inside later.

Things You'll Need

  • Any type of soil
  • Pot(s) with drainage hole(s)
  • Potting soil
  • Garden clippers
  • String
  • Clothesline
  • Window screen
  • Boards or bricks
  • Plastic zipper bags
  • Ice cube trays
  • Blender
  • Mason jars with canning lids

References

  • West Virginia University: Growing Herbs in the Home Garden

Who Can Help

  • Horizon Herbs: Seeds of sustenance
  • The Thyme Garden: Welcome
Keywords: herbs growing, basil oregano, harvesting storing

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.