Herbs, like basil and oregano, try their best to set flowers this time of year. If you want the optimum flavor for cooking, do not let them. If they blossom, the leaves turn bitter. Pinch out the flowers and all of the growing tips. The more pinches you take, the more branches you promote, which increase your crop of leaves and sprigs.
Before you harvest your herbs, look on the underside of leaves. This is where pests will hide. If your herbs need washing or debugging, spray them with a blast of water from the hose before you harvest them. Then let them dry before you pick.
Gather your herbs in early morning, after they are dry but before they are wilted from too much sun. The early morning harvest gets the herbs at their peak, when the fragrant oils are concentrated in the leaves.
In an old Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, they suggest freezing herbs this way:
To dry the branches of herbs, wrap them together in bunches. Hang the cut stems in a dry, warm area, upside down in brown paper bags, and secure them with a stretched rubber band. The rubber band will contract as the stems shrink. When the leaves have dried, strip them from the stems and package them in glass jars with tight fitting lids.
Remember those little gifts you needed last Christmas for teachers, neighbors who stopped by, delivery people? Now is a good time to be thinking about those small presents you need come December. Package your herbs in good-looking small jars you can find at craft stores. Get some fancy labels, record the name of the herb and the date you bottled it.
Pack the jars with a single dried herb. Better yet, make your own special blends, crushing and mixing complementary herbs together. Then, label them for use either in soups, sauces, or as seasoning on meats or in vegetables. For salad blends, make some herbal vinegars.
Any vinegar can be used as a base. Apple cider vinegar is the cheapest. Balsamic vinegar and rice wine vinegar have distinctive tastes and are a little more expensive to use. Old wine bottles, cleaned and sterilized, can be used for your special vinegars. Push leafy stems of your favorite herbs into the bottles. Basil, oregano, thyme, dill, rosemary all can be used. Add 1, 2, or 3 cloves of garlic and pieces of onion. Fill the bottles with vinegar and stopper them tightly with new corks. Set the bottles in the warm sun for two or three weeks to infuse the herbal flavors.
When it is gift-giving time, just tie some raffia around your treasures. Settle a little bit of summer sunshine on those lucky people on your gifting list.
NOTE: Check out Basil Basics under the NASA Seeds in Space label here on our site. There are detailed instructions for raising cinnamon basil from seed. In addition, there is a recipe section full of good ideas for using cinnamon basil.
---Posted by Anne K Moore, July 21, 2007---
NASA Seeds in Space
"Now why do you think a plant would look like this? That’s how I’d always get caught up in this stuff. Botany by imagination," Susan Orlean, The Orchid Thief