Many area gardeners are in harvest mode this time of year, gathering tomatoes, peppers, pickles, grapes and other fruit for canning, freezing or drying. Don't overlook the herb garden when preserving your garden goodies.
Great for art or craft projects such as wreath making and potpourri, creating oils and brewing tea, dried herbs from your garden are also a bargain for your kitchen spice rack.
Rose Loveall-Sale of Morningsun Herb Farm in Vacaville offers these tips for harvesting your herbs at the peak of perfection:
• Pick herbs during the morning, when the flavor and aroma are best.
• September and October are the best months for harvesting herbs. Although your herb garden will look outstanding all the way through October, the cooler weather of mid and late fall will diminish the herbs' potency.
• Harvest only from those plants that are healthy. Avoid drought stressed herbs.
• Prune herbs from the top of the plant, harvesting the younger stems and leaves.
• Don't wash herb cuttings until you are ready to use them. Or, overhead water the plants the day before harvesting to wash off the dirt.
• If using fresh herbs for cooking, don't damage the leaves before you are ready to cook. Cut whole stems, keeping the leaves intact.
• For drying, tie herb branches in one-inch bunches and hang upside down for about a week, out of the sun in a cool, dry place. Then, store the dried herbs in glass jars or plastic containers in a dark place. If using a dehydrator, use the lowest temperature setting.
Loveall-Sale also recommends three culinary herbs for planting now, that will last all winter outdoors here in the valley, low foothills and Bay Area of California:
salad burnet, winter savory and Italian oregano.
The leaves of salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) have a mild, cucumber flavor and are often used in French dressings.
The peppery flavor of winter savory (Satureja montana) is more intense than its close relative, summer savory, and is best used in soups and stews.