Washing Herbs: The Good, the Bad and the Messy

Thai Basil sm_thumb[6]by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

Now that the weather has finally warmed to normal summer temperatures many of the late-flowering herbs in the garden have exploded into a tangle of arching stems and resinous leaves ready to be harvested for drying and storage.  But before I begin cutting, I want to make sure that they are relatively free of dirt and debris.  But should herbs harvested for drying be washed at all, and if so, how and when does one go about washing them?

To begin with, herbs should never be washed with soap and water.  There’s just no need for that.  There’s also no need to use products intended to clean waxy coatings off of fruits and vegetables.  Instead, most fresh herbs are merely rinsed in waters in order to remove dirt and dust or to chase off small insects that live among the leaves.

The first and most obvious drawback to rinsing herbs involves the drying process.  Regardless of our best efforts with paper towels and salad spinners,  it is difficult and time consuming to remove all of the surface moisture on freshly rinsed herbs.  Even the slightest amount of moisture on herb leaves can make the job of chopping and processing a real bummer because they stick to every surface they touch.

If you plan on freezing your processed herbs, any external moisture on the leaves will quickly turn to ice and frost, shortening storage life and reducing the quality and flavor of the finished product.  Even if you plan to dry them later, the same moisture will slow the entire process, resulting in a poor finished product.  And if you wash them and then wait for them to dry out, they’ll probably just wilt.

So what can be done to have both clean and dry herbs at the same time?  One of the best ways I have found to quickly and efficiently clean herbs is to rinse them in the field.   First make sure that your herbs have been mulched well with straw, pine needles, deciduous leaves or wood chips.   Then, the night before the harvest simply rinse the plants in the garden using an adjustable watering wand or hose nozzle set to a gentle spray pattern.  Simply wet the herbs thoroughly from top to bottom, taking care to reach all parts of the plant and taking care not to injure tender leaves or stems.   In the morning your herbs will be clean, dry and ready to harvest.   Simply give each harvested bundle a gentle shake to dislodge any little insects that may have spent the night in the leaves.

When harvesting small amounts of herb for fresh use in the kitchen, a quick rinse is often just what the cook orders.   A handful of basil, sage or thyme can be quickly rinsed in loose bunches in a large bowl or sink full of water and shaken out briskly to remove excess moisture.  If you want learn more about how to hold those fresh herbs over for a day or two,  check out my article Preserving the Freshness of Herbs for lots of great tips and tricks to keep your herbs harvest fresh!

Happy gardening!

© 2014 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


THPOKH-214x321_thumb7_thumbThe Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs

Learn how to grow and use the world’s oldest, safest, and most medicinal herbs with this easy step-by-step guide!  From starting seeds to preparing home remedies, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a treasured resource that you will turn to time and time again.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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2 responses to “Washing Herbs: The Good, the Bad and the Messy

  1. Rinsing the herbs in the field is a wonderful idea!

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