Saving herb seeds has been one of the most rewarding gardening tasks. During the growing season, you get fresh herbs for pizzas, sauces, pesto, or merely to put in salads, but eventually they stop producing and the plants begin to go to seed. After harvesting what you want to preserve, the next step is to collect and save the seeds. This is the time that I get super excited about next year’s bounty.
My friend, Amy Fewell, is an expert in everything herbs and has an amazingly easy-to-follow guide in her newly released book, The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion. Amy sums up perfectly in an easy-to-follow format exactly how to save herb seeds. If you like this section of her book, you are going to love the entire book. It’s filled with crazy great information, like what herbs to start with if you are new to growing herbs, how to make soaps, salves, and tinctures, how to maintain the health of livestock with herbs, companion planting (which I think is super important), cooking with herbs, and so much more.
Here is an excerpt from The Homesteader’s Herbal Companion:
Saving Herb Seeds
Saving your seeds is absolutely painless. It sounds labor intensive, but keep in mind that each new flower head of an herb can hold dozens, even hundreds, of seeds. The most complicated decision is to decide when to allow your herbs to go to seed and when to harvest them.
Many herbs will self-seed, such as calendula and chamomile. This means that the seeds will fall to the ground and grow the following year. You can still harvest seeds from these plants, and I do encourage it just in case there’s an awfully wet winter that prevents the plant from self-sowing. I also encourage my herbs to self-seed as much as possible because they always return better and better since they know exactly when to pop up out of the ground, and have grown resilient.
Herbs that don’t self-sow, or that you want to save seeds from, will need to “go to seed” before you can harvest the seeds. This means that you’ll have to allow plants to develop a flower head, which is where your seeds will grow, or you’ll have to hold back the bulbs of certain herbs, like garlic and onions, to replant the following year. You can do this by drying out the bulbs and storing them in a cool place until you’re ready to replant. Garlic and onions can be sown in the fall and reaped in the spring, or sown in the spring and reaped in the fall.
Allowing the flower head to stay on the plant as long as possible, so that it dries mostly on its own, is very important. Some plants will drop their seeds before they are completely dry. These seeds will have to be harvested a little “under ripe” and dried indoors. But try your hardest to allow them to dry on the plant itself in order to get the most mature seed possible.
With a brown paper bag or envelope hovering under the flower head of your herb, gently remove the flower head into the bag or envelope. Be sure to harvest seeds from the healthiest and biggest plants. Just as weight genetics in animals, genetics in plants make a big difference when reproducing.
Once you’ve gathered your herb flower heads, you’ll need to lay them out on a flat surface indoors, or away from the breeze. As you take each flower head out, you can gently shake it into the bag/envelope so that the seeds are captured. Any seeds that are still in the flower head can be picked out or allowed to dry a little longer indoors.
Some seeds may need to be cleaned. You can do this by rubbing them around in a mesh strainer or site, separating the seeds and casings. Lay out on a drying rack towel, or paper to completely finish drying if necessary. If your seeds still have flower petals on them, remove the petal ends.
Once the seeds are completely extracted and dried out, store them in a brown paper envelope or an airtight container being sure to label the name of the herb and the year that you harvested them. Keep them out of sunlight and store in a dry area.
And that is it! You’ve officially saved your herb seeds for subsequent year plantings!