Harvesting, Drying and Storing Your Magical Herbs

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Harvesting Your Magical Herbs

Gather fresh herbs from your garden for magical uses. Image by Helen King/Fuse/Getty Images

Whether you’re an apartment dweller with a few small containers on the patio, or a rural gardener with an entire patch of magical goodies to choose from, harvesting homegrown herbs is a gratifying experience. You can either harvest a few bits at a time, as you need them, and use them fresh, or you can gather entire bunches at once to dry and preserve.

Although there’s no hard and fast rule about what to use when cutting herbs, some magical traditions recommend the use of a boline, or ritual cutting tool, for herb harvesting. If your tradition doesn’t require this, you can use any pair of garden snippers.

Keep in mind that the best time to harvest your herbs is early in the day, after the morning dew has dried away. Harvesting them early, before the sun has had time to dry them out, allows the plants to maintain their essential oils, which is an important part of herb use. The oils are what keeps them fragrant.

Basic cutting: if you’re only going to collect what you need for a ritual or working, simply snip off the leaves or stems that you’re going to use that day. Some herbs, like basil, are easily stripped of leaves just by sliding your fingers along the branch. Others, like rosemary, have a woody stem that is easier to snip off in its entirety. During the summer months, snipping off leaves and stems will encourage new growth in your plants. If it’s the flowers you’re after - such as chamomile - collect blooms after they’ve developed fully and opened up. If you’ve got a plant whose seeds are the main focus, be sure to wait until the seeds have fully developed and begun to dry and turn brown on their own. An easy way to gather seeds, such as on the dill plant, is to place a paper bag over the head of the plant, and shake it into the bag. Any dry seeds should fall easily into your paper sack.

Bunch cutting: If you’d like to gather entire bundles of herbs to hang up and dry, snip off the stems where they branch off from the main plant. This not only encourages new growth later in the season, it also makes it easier to hang them up in a bunch.

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How to Dry Your Magical Herbs

Dry your magical herbs and store them for later use. Image by alle12/E+/Getty Images

When you dry herbs, you have a couple of options as to method. A bundle or bunch of herbs can be tied together with string - use about a dozen stems tied together to make a nice fat bundle - and hung in a dry, airy place. It’s generally not a good idea to hang them in direct sunlight, because they can burn and become over-dry. You can hang them from a drying rack in a warm spot in your house, and let them sit for about three weeks. This is usually enough time to dry most herbs - you’ll know they’re done drying because the leaves will crack when you pinch them.

Again, if you’re harvesting the seeds or blossoms, use the paper bag method. Secure the bag over the head of your drying bundle, and as the plant dries, the seeds and flowers will fall off into the bag.

Another method that some people like to use - and it works well if you’re in a hurry - is to lay the gathered herbs flat on a cookie sheet and place it in the oven at a low temperature. This will take a few hours, and it makes your house smell amazing. Be cautious, though - you don’t want to overbake your herbs, because they’ll be useless if they burn.

If you have a dehydrator, you can use that in a similar manner as the oven method - fortunately, a dehydrator works at a lower temperature than your oven, so the risk of burning your leaves is lower. Be sure to check them periodically to see if they’re done drying. Again, when the leaves crumble to the touch, they’re ready to go.

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Storing Your Magical Herbs

Store your herbs in glass jars for long-term use. Image by Cavan Images/PhotoLibrary/Getty Images

To store your herbs, there are a variety of methods you can use. While a plastic Zip-loc bag works well to keep air out, it doesn’t keep out the light, and that’s something you want to be sure to do. Use colored glass jars, or ceramic containers with an airtight lid to store your herbs. Be sure to label each jar with the herb’s name on it - and if it’s something that might be toxic, make sure you indicate this on the label, particularly if you have children in your home. Keep your herb jars in a cool, dark area - don’t store them over the stove or in an area that is known for high heat.

Wondering what kind of herbs are the best ones to start with? Obviously, the ones you’re going to use the most. For some ideas, be sure to read about Ten Magical Herbs to Have on Hand.

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Your Citation
Wigington, Patti. "Harvesting, Drying and Storing Your Magical Herbs." ThoughtCo, Jun. 30, 2016, thoughtco.com/harvesting-drying-and-storing-magical-herbs-2562025. Wigington, Patti. (2016, June 30). Harvesting, Drying and Storing Your Magical Herbs. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/harvesting-drying-and-storing-magical-herbs-2562025 Wigington, Patti. "Harvesting, Drying and Storing Your Magical Herbs." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/harvesting-drying-and-storing-magical-herbs-2562025 (accessed March 18, 2018).