Picking herbs may seem like an easy task, and it generally is, but there are right and wrong ways to do it. Time the harvest for best flavor, and pick the leaves, stems, or flowers to ensure the plant will be able to continue growing and producing. Knowing when to harvest herbs for optimal flavor and how to do it is important.
How to Harvest Herbs – General Tips
Your herb harvest will vary a little bit by type of plant. There are also general guidelines for all herbs grown in the garden. Here are some important tips to maximize your harvest:
- Harvest leafy annual herbs, like basil, by pinching off leaves at the tips of stems.
- Harvest leafy perennials – sage, tarragon, thyme, oregano – by removing longer stems of leaves.
- The stemmed herbs, like lavender, rosemary, parsley, and cilantro, should be harvested by cutting off stems at the base.
- When harvesting annual herbs, you can cut back half to three-quarters of the plant at one time.
- For perennial herbs, never take more than one-third at a time.
- If harvesting herbs for flowers, remove the blooms before they are in full flower.
When to Harvest Herbs
You can harvest herbs when they are large enough to sustain new growth. As long as you follow the guidelines above for annuals and perennials, the amount you get in one harvest varies, but the plant should regenerate foliage.
Timing is essential for getting herbs at their peak flavor. The aim is to pick them when the aromatic and tasty oils in the plants are at their highest levels. This occurs in the morning, after the dew had dried but before it’s hot outside.
Another important aspect of timing is to pick leaves before the flowers develop. If you use them after the flowers appear, they will not taste as good. You can pinch flowers off as they begin to show to keep getting a harvest of leaves.
What to Do with Your Herb Harvest
Pick and use herbs fresh whenever you can for the best flavors. However, you are likely to get more than you can use and there is no reason to let them go to waste. The best preservation methods are freezing and drying.
Tray drying is simple and easy. Wash and dry the herbs and arrange them evenly and in a single layer. Turn the leaves as needed. When fully dry, store in jars. An easy way to freeze herbs is to wash and chop and add to water in ice cube trays. When frozen, store the cubes in a bag in the freezer.