When putting so much time and effort into a summer garden, whether it be several acres of land, or just a few pots on the balcony, like mine, it is so bittersweet when harvest time comes. As a gardener, body and soul, I know that autumn is an important part of the natural cycle of most temperate and northern climate plants. I know that in order to be our best we must all stop and rest from time to time and plants are no different. Even our houseplants go into a quiet slumber at certain times of the year.
My garden is aphid-eaten, wind-ravaged, sun-starved, and just plain tired of having to work so damn hard. I don't blame her. Every year I try to work a little harder for her by planting earlier, strategically positioning pots, releasing lady bugs, watering diligently as I eat my breakfast just to give her that extra boost to dig her roots and extend her leaves. By the time September hits we are rushing to hang onto the tiny bounty of all our hard work.
Herbs can be such a delicate beast to harness some years. I was quite lucky this year, even through aphids and cool temperatures the majority of my herbs have come out of summer most gloriously. With the rain and short days quickly approaching I wanted to gather all the bounty I could to be used throughout the winter months. My basil I made into several batches of pesto alla Genovese, my mint I pureed with a bit of water and filled ice cube trays for winter teas and cocktails.
The beautiful sage and thyme plants you see here were on sale for 50¢ a pot at a local plant shop (another benefit of the season) so I grabbed several while out for a walk one day with the sole intention of immediately preserving them before winter could take its toll. Sage and thyme both dry very well by hanging: simply shake off the dirt (or wash and allow to completely air dry) then group into small bundles of 3 or 4 branches and tie with string. Hang these bundles upside down in a warm, dry spot out of direct sunlight.Once the herbs have completely dried (as quickly as a few days, depending on the location) transfer the leaves, crushing if desired, into air tight jars for storage. Always keep your dried herbs and spices out of direct sunlight and away from moisture.
My herb book (Harrowsmith Illustrated Book of Herbs) describes sage as springing back to life after a deep freeze and using this logic one could also place sage leaves in a plastic bag directly into the freezer to then be used as needed in soups and stews. This book has not yet led me astray, so I figured I would give it a try — I'll let you know how it goes.