Whether you’re an apartment dweller with a few small containers on the patio, or a rural gardener with an entire patch of magical goodies to choose from, harvesting homegrown herbs is a gratifying experience. You can either harvest a few bits at a time, as you need them, and use them fresh, or you can gather entire bunches at once to dry and preserve.
Harvesting Your Magical Herbs
Although there’s no hard and fast rule about what to use when cutting herbs, some magical traditions recommend the use of a boline, or ritual cutting tool, for herb harvesting. If your tradition doesn’t require this, you can use any pair of garden snippers.
Keep in mind that the best time to harvest your herbs is early in the day, after the morning dew has dried away. Harvesting them early, before the sun has had time to dry them out, allows the plants to maintain their essential oils, which is an important part of herb use. The oils are what keeps them fragrant.
Basic cutting: if you’re only going to collect what you need for a ritual or working, simply snip off the leaves or stems that you’re going to use that day. Some herbs, like basil, are easily stripped of leaves just by sliding your fingers along the branch. Others, like rosemary, have a woody stem that is easier to snip off in its entirety. During the summer months, snipping off leaves and stems will encourage new growth in your plants.
If it’s the flowers you’re after, such as chamomile or lilacs, collect blooms after they’ve developed fully and opened up. If you’ve got a plant whose seeds are the main focus, be sure to wait until the seeds have fully developed and begun to dry and turn brown on their own. An easy way to gather seeds, such as on the dill plant, is to place a paper bag over the head of the plant, and shake it into the bag. Any dry seeds should fall easily into your paper sack.
Bunch cutting: If you’d like to gather entire bundles of herbs to hang up and dry, snip off the stems where they branch off from the main plant. This not only encourages new growth later in the season, it also makes it easier to hang them up in a bunch.
How to Dry Your Magical Herbs
When you dry herbs, you have a couple of options as to method. A bundle or bunch of herbs can be tied together with string–use about a dozen stems tied together to make a nice fat bundle–and hung in a dry, airy place. It’s generally not a good idea to hang them in direct sunlight, because they can burn and become over-dry. You can hang them from a drying rack in a warm spot in your house, and let them sit for about three weeks. This