Lavender and Lace, Roses and Salt

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Harvesting herbs & flowers from the kitchen garden. As we approach the end of the summer, my thoughts turn to harvesting the wonderful herbs and flowers from my kitchen garden…my kitchen and pantry at this time of year are festooned with bunches of herbs and flowers, hanging from an old clothes airer, as well as from door handles and hooks – I even have a bunch of herbs, usually sage or bay, hanging from an old “billiard table” light above the kitchen table! The house is filled with the scent and fragrance of aromatics; it’s the cross between a “roast on Sunday” and a “lavender sachet” smell!

Harvest home is often described in terms of bringing in the last of the corn or wheat, and the image that is most associated with it is that of cottage loaves, wheat sheaf bread and cornucopias of fruit and vegetables…but, for me, the term “harvest home” has a more personal resonance, it’s the time of the year when I harvest what I want to use throughout the winter months, and apart from fruit and vegetables (used in the preserving kitchen, which I will cover later) that usually means herbs (and some flowers), for the linen closet as well as the kitchen. 

I usually harvest my herbs in the morning, after the dew has evaporated but before the sun has had a chance to warm them, as the essential oils are lost once they have been exposed to heat. I use a special pair of “garden scissors” (large kitchen scissors in reality!) I then cut the herbs with a long stem and strip the bottom leaves off the stem, leaving a natural bunch ready for hanging up to dry; however, with the smaller leaved herbs such as rosemary and thyme, I only save the leaves and discard the stem. There are several ways of drying them, my preferred method is to hang the bunches of herbs (and flowers) upside down in a (preferably) dark and well aired room, secured with string or elastic bands until they are dry (about 2 weeks), when I will strip the leaves from the stems, and decant them into airtight containers. If you are worried about dust, just pop the bunch of herbs or flowers into a paper bag, which has small holes cut into it to aid with drying and air circulation. 

One of the exceptions to the rule about drying herbs in bunches, is the drying procedure for my Lemon Verbena (verveine) – I strip the leaves from the stem, and pop them into a special “Verveine” jar, where they dry perfectly and also retain all their lovely lemony oils, ready for a cup of calming verveine tea (tisane) during the dark winter months!

Another simple and easy way of keeping lavender, is to make lavender bags and sachets for the linen closet, however, I will often make small bunches, tie them up with lace, and simply hang the wee bunches about the house for a soothing floral fragrance, as well as placing them directly in my linen closet too… From lavender to  hops...I never really know what to do with my hops,  I have recipes for beer and hop fritters, as well as the usual Hop Sleep Pillows on the arty crafty front, and, I have to admit that I  am still stuck in an 80′s time warp with hop trusses on top of my kitchen cupboards and beams…however, my latest project for harvesting and keeping my hops, has been hop wreaths and rings,to adorn my linen cupboard as well as our bed, with the added advantage of sleep induced decoration. 

Before I nod off with all these hops about me, I would like to mention harvesting flowers too…there is the usual practice of hanging flowers upside down in paper bags, to preserve them for pot pourrie or dried flower displays, as I mentioned before for herbs, however, I like to go a little left of field here and preserve some of my edible flowers in SALT for an extraordinary culinary delight!

My recipe, which I will share below, is a simple one, Culinary Flower and Herb Salt, and it makes the most BEAUTIFUL of gifts and I always make at least half a dozen jars at the end of summer for myself, family and friends; then just scatter it over salads for a wonderful salty garnish, or drop it into soups…I also add it to softened butter for the tea time table, as well as having a jar on the table for “direct” salting of meals! The salt preserves the colour, fragrance and colours of the flowers and herbs, and I decant mine into an old “kilner” jar for maximum “gift-giving” and “decorative storage shelf” impact.

There are of course many other ways to preserve your harvested herbs and flowers, such as in oils and vinegars, but I think this salt is one of the prettiest and most practical ways, although I do make a batch of herb oils and vinegars too.....no matter what size your herb garden is, or how large your flower beds, do try to harvest some before the summer is out, and you will be rewarded with the most amazing summery fragrances and flavours for your kitchen and home throughout the winter months.

Thanks for reading.

Ps. You can find all sorts of delicious edible flowers and herbs seeds at Sarah Raven... of course