Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Harvesting Herbs, also known as Summer Pruning

So you planted some scentsational herbs this past spring and have been growing them all summer. Now what?

An herb garden or a container of herbs is beautiful and a fragrant joy all season long. You have probably been judiciously snipping some of the tips to season your meals. Now, however, is not the time to be timid!

Crabapple LandscapExperts explain that vigorously growing, leafy herbs like basil, oregano, sweet marjoram, lemon balm,  tarragon or dill may be cut back severely; one half to two thirds of the plant, to use fresh*, or to dry or freeze for later use. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears and cut just above a leaf or pair of leaves, leaving 4 to 6 inches to re-grow, giving you another harvest in about six weeks. In the case of chives, it’s best to snip as many of the tubular leaves as you need down to the ground, instead of giving the whole clump a butch haircut. In the case of the annual herb basil, be vigilant in keeping the flowers pinched off. This promotes the growth of new leaves (your objective) and hinders the setting of seed followed by the death of the plant.

Perennial herbs that are woody sub-shrubs like rosemary and lavender should not be harvested so severely. Cut back only about one third of the growth, taking care that there are leaves on the remaining branches. Carefully prune using very sharp clippers so that new growth will be produced and that a good shape is maintained.  

After this summer pruning, water the herb plants well and fertilize using rich compost or an organic mulch to stimulate new growth. You will be rewarded by succeeding harvests in the weeks to come.

Genovese Pesto Recipe for a harvest of fresh Basil:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup pine nuts (or substitute shelled walnuts)
½ to 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese

Either toss ingredients into a food processor, or for a more authentic texture chop basil, garlic and pine nuts finely with a very sharp chef’s knife before whisking in EVOO and Parmesan. Serve over freshly boiled pasta or potato gnocci and garnish with a few basil leaves.

Lemon Balm Wine Cooler Recipe for a harvest of fresh Lemon Balm:
fresh lemon balm, large handful
white wine, your choice
lemons for garnish
ginger ale or soda water

Cut a large handful of fresh lemon balm and put it into the bottom of a pitcher. Pour in a bottle of white wine and macerate the leaves with a wooden spoon, Refrigerate 4-8 hours.
Strain out the lemon balm and compost it. The remaining wine will smell delightfully of lemon balm. Pour half wine and half ginger ale over ice in tall glasses, garnish with extra-thin lemon slices, and serve. 

Enjoy the herbs to their fullest. What are some of your favorite ways to use fresh, home grown  herbs? 

Photo Credits, Geri Laufer, Pesto by giniann on Wordpress, Wine Cooler by Associated Press.

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