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General tips when growing herbs

Growing your own herbs

In an ideal world, everyone would and should be growing their own herbs to use as medicines, to cook with, and use as cosmetics, etc. Making tinctures, harvesting essential oils, making teas, decoctions, infusions will all contribute to healthy lifestyles. Illness would be a rarity. Food made from produce grown in our own gardens would be the norm. This food would then be enhanced by using selected herbs to add zest and flavor to the food.

These days most of the foods sold commercially are not organically grown. The shelf-life of these foods is boosted and lengthened and growth seasons are manipulated. Nowadays it is not uncommon to find strawberries, bright red, all year round on the supermarket shelves. Not to mention gigantic aubergines, and who knows what else. However, this does not mean that these foods are nutritious. With all people leading such busy lives it is no wonder that diseases and illnesses are so commonplace. All this prompted a lot of people to try and escape this trap and get back to nature. A lot of people have joined the "alternative medicine" bandwagon, and what better way than to have your own herb garden. For it is only from one's own herb garden that one can always have fresh culinary herbs, fresh medicinal herbs and the like at hand all the time. Following are some tips for growing herbs:

  • Most herbs grow best in well drained, fairly fertile soil with a neutral pH of 6.5 to 7.0.
  • Most herbs prefer full sun at least for four hours per day.
  • Herb seeds can be sown indoors or out. Many seeds are very tiny and fine. Make sure not to plant them deeply. Just barely cover the seed and keep the top surface of the soil moist.
  • Always thin herb seedlings according to the instructions on the seed packet.
  • If you are growing perennial herbs or biennial herbs, make sure to plan your herb garden so as not to disturb them the next year.
  • Occasionally mites and aphids can bother a number of herb varieties.
  • Few pests affect the herb family. In fact, some herbs, such as garlic,are used in organic pesticide formulas.
  • Disease is not too common among the herb family.

Making the most of your herbs from your herb garden

It is best to harvest herbs in the morning. This is when the oils are the highest concentration. It is the oil in herbs that gives herbs their aroma and flavor. Immediately after harvesting them, wash them in cool water. Then spread them out on a drying rack. Allow good ventilation. They should dry in two to three days. Many herbs can also be frozen for later use (culinary herbs). The following paragraphs will render more details regarding the harvesting and drying of herbs.

Harvesting your Herbs: As soon as there are enough leaves on the herb plant, that picking a few will not impair the plant's survival. This also means that the herb is ready to be harvested. Always harvest your herbs in the morning hours. It is usually in the morning that the herb plant's oils are at their highest concentration. When harvesting herb make use of a sharp knife, pruning scissors, or shears. Do rinse the herbs gently in cool water immediately after harvesting. Allow the herbs to air dry, or pat the herbs lightly with a paper towel. Use them immediately, alternatively, store in the refrigerator for later use.

Drying Herbs: The easiest way to dry herbs is to spread the herbs out on a drying rack. There is also an alternative method of drying herbs. All that is required is to tie them into a loose bundle, and hang them upside down to dry.

  • Gather small bunches of the same herb, tie a string or rubber band around the stem part, and simply hang or lay them to dry anywhere that there is no sunlight.
  • Do ensure that there is good ventilation as air movement is essential to dry herbs.
  • Dry the herbs in a cool, dry place. This minimizes the likelihood of mold forming on the herbs while they are drying.
  • Watch for mold, and discard any affected plants.

Herbs are very versatile, not only in the types and varieties of herbs that you get, but also in the ways that it can be dried. Another alternative is to dry some herbs in the oven. Large herb leaves can be dried in the oven on a low temperature for a couple of hours – just spread the herbs out on a baking sheet. Make sure you check the herbs regularly so they don’t burn, and turn them over after an hour. (Tip: To keep the flavor of herbs, cut the herbs for drying in the morning before the sun is hot.)

Drying is complete when the leaves are crisp (this should take 2 to 3 weeks if you are air-drying your herbs). Simply strip the leaves from the stalks and store in an airtight container. Before storing dried herbs, it is important that they are completely dry. After herbs are completely dried, they can be cut up as desired and stored for future use. (Tip: When using dry herbs, you only need half the amount you do with fresh.)

Freezing Herbs: Many herbs can also be frozen for later use (culinary herbs). You could bag up herbs to freeze Pick young leaves and shoots, wash and pat dry. Put into airtight plastic bags (removing all the air) and put in a solid container so they won't get crushed in the freezer: oregano, sage, mint, tarragon, thyme and rosemary are perfect for this. Or you could keep the fresh flavor of cut herbs for future cooking by making herb bombs. Simply wash and chop the leaves and put them in an ice-cube tray, fill with water and pop in the freezer. To use just add ice cube herb bomb to the cooking pot of casseroles, stews, soups and curries.