It is summertime and it is hotter in Portland than usual. The heat works wonders on some of our edible plants, such as tomatoes. On the other hand, it can make certain herbs, like dill, wish for cooler, sunny days. As the temperature rises, it is so tempting to stay indoors, but it is around this time of the year that so many herbs will need frequent pruning and harvesting to maintain their vigor.
Knowing when to harvest edible herbs can be confusing. Luckily , there are just a few rules to keep in mind, but remember: these rules are guidelines that can be adjusted as you become more acquainted with the herbs you grow.
Many experts say that the best time to harvest is right before the flower buds open. This is the period where the maximum amount of oil is most concentrated. Since the amount of oil in the herbs influences flavor and fragrance, it makes sense to follow their sage advice. Then, there is also the ideal time of day to harvest. Many would say herbs are best harvested early in the morning, after the dew has dried off, because that is when the oil is best. These are sound rules but they are not always easy to follow. We all get sidetracked with our busy lives, so what can we do if we miss the recommended timeline? Harvest your herbs when you have the time. It may not yield the best, but you are your own judge. There are also some herbs that will need to be cut when the leaves are young, such as sorrel, otherwise the flavor on mature leaves can be less than desirable.
When harvesting, look at your herbs to see which are annuals. Some examples of annual herbs are basil, parsley, and dill. Thyme and oregano are examples of perennial herbs. In general, leave at least three inches of the stems when harvesting leafy annuals, and take no more than one third from the top growth of perennials. There are always exceptions, but it is a good starting point. Whenever possible, prune right above where there is an intersecting branch or where the leaves branch out (see picture below).
Another important factor determining when to harvest your herbs is how you plan to use them. If the leaves are going to be used, then try not to let the plants get to the flowering stage. Frequent pinching off the buds will be necessary throughout the growing season. But if it is the seeds you are after, then let the plants bloom in order to set seeds. Dill and coriander are two common herbs that are grown for seeds in addition to their leaves.
So go out to your garden, stay cool, and harvest your herbs. Many herbs can be arranged on a platter to be eaten fresh with meals. From personal experience, this practice is common in Vietnamese and Persian cuisines. Some of the herbs that can be eaten fresh are basil, mint, cilantro, chives, dill, French tarragon, and scallions. Arrange your herb plate with a small amount of any or all of your favorite edible herbs, then add cheese,fruits and nuts to the platter. They not only make a great presentation, but this also allows each diner to customize her culinary experience. Create your own assortment of herbal delights on a plate and enjoy with every meal.