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Herbs as a group are relatively easy to grow, and are especially suited for commercial organic farming. An inherent resistance to pests and affinity for organic fertilizers are characteristic of herbs. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides often induce variations in the subtle flavors of herbs.

The optimum growing conditions vary with each individual herb species. Some of the herbs such as Lvender, Rosemary, Hyme, Bay laurel, Marjoram, Dill, and Oregano are native to the Mediterranean region. These herbs grow best in soils with excellent drainage, bright sun, and moderate temperatures. These basic guidelines need to be followed when the herbs are grown:

  • Planting herbs in average garden soil with organic matter added to improve texture and drainage.
  • Choosing a site that receives at least 6 hours of direct sun each day.
  • Avoiding ground where water stands or runs during heavy rains.
  • Compensating for poor drainage with raised beds amended with compost.
A herb garden should be planned by grouping herbs according to light, irrigation, and soil requirements. Most herbs enjoy full sun, but a few tolerate shade. Herbs can be classified as either annual, biennial, or perennial. Some herbs, such as borage, anise, caraway, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, and fennel, should be direct-seeded, because they grow easily from seed or do not transplant well. Other herbs, such as mints, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and tarragon, should be purchased as plants and transplanted or propagated by cuttings to ensure production of the desired plant (do not come true from seeds).


Herbs should be harvested when the oils responsible for flavor and aroma are at their peak. Proper timing depends on the plant part you are harvesting and the intended use. Herbs grown for their foliage should be harvested before they flower. While chives are quite attractive in bloom, flowering can cause the foliage to develop an off-flavor. Harvest herbs grown for seeds as the seed pods change in color from green to brown to gray but before they shatter (open). Collect herb flowers, such as borage and chamomile, just before full flower. Harvest herb roots, such as bloodroot, chicory, ginseng, and goldenseal, in the fall after the foliage fades. Some general guidelines to use include:

  • Begin harvesting the herb when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Up to 75% of the current season's growth can be harvested at one time.

  • Harvest early in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the heat of the day.

  • Harvest herbs before flowering, otherwise, leaf production declines.

  • Herb flowers have their most intense oil concentration and flavor when harvested after flower buds appear but before they open.

  • Herb flowers harvested to dry for craft purposes should be picked just before they are fully open.

  • Annual herbs can be harvested until frost.

  • Perennial herbs can be clipped until late August. Stop harvesting about one month before the frost date. Late pruning could encourage tender growth that cannot harden-off before winter.

  • Harvest tarragon or lavender flowers in early summer and then shear the plants to half their height to encourage a second flowering period in the fall. Herbs acquire their fragrance and flavor from oils that evaporate into the air when the leaves are crushed. Ideally, you should use fresh herbs for cooking, but it is possible to retain some quality for later use. There are several methods to preserve herbs.
Freezing is one of the easiest methods to preserve herbs. The herbs are quickly rinsed in cold water, excess water is shaken off, and then chopped coarsely. The pinches of herbs are placed in water-filled ice cube trays and frozen. These are then transferred to plastic bags or airtight plastic containers.

Drying is the traditional method of herb preservation. The herbs are rinsed off dust and dirt from the foliage, the excess water is shaken off, and the herbs are spread out to dry on paper towels or dishcloths until all surface moisture has evaporated. Then, the stems are tied into small bundles with twine or string and hung them upside down in a warm, dry, airy place out of the sun.

UV rays from the sun and moisture from dew and frost can discolor and severely reduce the quality of many herbs. Thus, it is best to dry herbs indoors. Herbs can be dried in a barn, shed, or (least desirable) under the cover of a porch. Sage, thyme, summer savory, dill, and parsley are easy to dry. Basil, tarragon, and mints may mold and discolor if not dried quickly.

To air dry herbs with seeds, tie the herbs in small bundles and suspend inside a paper bag with holes punched in the sides. Suspend the bag in a dark area with good air circulation. Collect the seeds when they are dry, and store in rigid light-proof containers.

Herbs are sufficiently dry when they are brittle and crumble easily. When the leaves are dry, separate them from their stems and package the leaves in rigid containers with tight fitting lids. Glass or hard plastic are best, although heavy-duty zip-lock plastic bags can be used. To preserve full flavor, avoid crushing the leaves until you are ready to use them. Store dried herbs in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, moisture, and heat. Many herbs can be keep for a year if stored properly.

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