Harvest Carefully for Best Longevity
Any good herbalist will tell you your herbs are only as helpful are they are potent—full of the essential oils and chemical bodies that work in our bodies on a cellular and sub-cellular level. The timing and method of harvest, cleaning, processing, and storage can make a big difference in both the potency and shelf-life of your home grown herbs.
The “timing” of harvest refers to not only the point in plant’s life cycle and the moon’s phase/sign, but also to the time of day. Many experienced herbalists have recommended to me to harvest after the dew dries but before the plant starts to wilt under strong afternoon sun. Most people say this is midmorning, but having gardened in both high desert and temperate rainforest, I would say the precise time of day varies. Where I live now, the dew may not dry until noon or later on a cloudy day, but when I was based in New Mexico, plants could begin wilting by 9 or 10 am in the summer.
Signs for Harvest
The signs for harvest are the same whether your herbs are intended for medicinal, culinary, or sensory use.
When harvesting aromatic leaves and flowers, look for the first quarter of the moon under one of the dry signs (Aries, Gemini, etc). Experienced lunar gardeners will notice this isn’t the usual phase for harvesting, and that’s because when harvesting vegetables for storage you want to harvest them when the energy is returning to the roots and the plant is in a bit of a lull. But when you’re harvesting herbs, you want the opposite because you are trying to capture their peak essential oils. The waxing moon draws the liquid up in the plant, and that includes the powerful oils we rely on when we work with herbs.
After you harvest, wash your herbs in cool clean water and either use or dry them as soon as possible. Herbs can be made into oils, tinctures, salves, soaps, and teas, but if you don’t have the time or space for a big project right away, drying is a great option. Again, this will depend on your environment—mostly the humidity of your environment—but generally speaking, after washing, shake the excess water off and hang in bundles to dry.
Once dry, keep your herbs in large pieces (full leaves rather than crumbled) as long as possible to preserve the longevity of the plant.
Seeds are best harvested under a waning moon and a dry sign. Wait until they reach full seed maturity on the plant. In most plants, this will be after the leaves and fruit are mature, and it’s best to let the seeds dry on the plant as long as possible. Many garden herbs hold their seeds in small disks or pods that will shatter when tapped once the seeds are ready to harvest.
Harvest roots when the plant is dormant in fall or early spring, and under a waxing-full moon and a dry sign. As with leaves, clean, process, and use or dry as soon as possible. Dry roots are VERY difficult to slice or shred, so if you can’t use them right away, get them to the size you want before drying.