How & When To Harvest Herbs

Growing your own herbs at home is a great way to enjoy fresh flavors all year long. But the weather is turning cooler and the days are getting shorter, and that means one thing: it’s harvest time!

There are a few things you should keep in mind when harvesting herbs, no matter what herb you’re harvesting. Here’s some practical advice:

  • Growing Herbs with KidsOnly pick herbs when they’re dry. Harvest when morning dew has evaporated, or at dusk.
  • Harvest culinary herbs just before the buds open. Once they bloom, all the plant’s energy goes into producing blooms, not developing those tasty leaves. Be sure to pinch any buds before they flower.
  • Harvest seeds before they turn from green to brown. Seeds should be brittle, dry, and crushable, but not brown.
  • Be gentle! Fresh herbs are fragile, so when you harvest, handle them with care to avoid bruising your precious harvest.

When To Harvest Herbs

When you harvest herbs depends on three things:

  1. What part of the herb you’re planning to use or preserve. Do you only need the flower, or do you want the leaf or root?
  2. What you’re using the herb for. Do you plan on drying it, or using it fresh?
  3. The life cycle of the herb. Do you need to harvest before your herbs grow buds and flower?

Once you’ve established which part of the herb you need and what you’re using it for, all you have to do is wait for your herbs to ripen for the picking.

How To Harvest Herbs

Every herb is harvested in its own unique way. Here’s how to harvest some of our favorites:

Basil

BasilBefore You Harvest: Water your basil the night before you intend to harvest. That way, your basil will have a chance to soak up all that delicious water and your leaves will last longer after you harvest.

When: Harvest basil right before the plants start to bud and the flowers start to bloom (also known as “bolting”). Basil is best when harvested in the late morning, just after the dew has dried.

How: Pinch or cut each stem just above the second set of leaves. Cut the tips of each branch weekly, or cut the entire plant to just above the second set of leaves monthly. Pinch off any flower spikes right away.

Parsley

ParsleyBefore You Harvest: Wait until the stems have 3 segments.

When: Harvest continuously until your plant’s color fails, usually around late fall or early winter. Parsley will grow indoors all winter, but if your parsley is growing outdoors, you should harvest the whole plant before the first frost hits.

How: Snip your harvest from the base of the plant to encourage more growth. Cut leaves from the outer portions first so your parsley can focus on growing new leaves from the center of the plant. If you remove too many leaves from the wrong part of your plant, your herbs won’t collect enough sunlight to continue growing.

Cilantro

CilantroWhen: Harvest cilantro roughly once a week to prevent bolting, or your herb going to seed.

How: Trim the whole stem near ground level, but be careful never to cut the center stem. Like parsley, harvest the outer leaves first, so the newer, inner leaves can keep growing. Only harvest 1/3 of your plant at a time.

Oregano

OreganoWhen: Wait until the morning dew has dried, and if you can, harvest oregano on a warm morning – the oils and flavors will be the most highly concentrated. For the best flavors, harvest just as the flower buds form.

How: Cut to just above the growth node or the base of a particular set of leaves so the plant can grow new branches from the cut area.

Tip: Oregano is one of the only herbs that has a better, stronger flavor when it’s dried than when it’s fresh!

Thyme

ThymeWhen: Like most woody, stemmed herbs, thyme is best harvested right before it blooms. For the best flavor, harvest thyme in the morning after the dew has dried.

How: Cut the stems just before the growth node to increase growth and ensure a constant supply of fresh, delicious thyme.

Tip: Thyme can have soft or woody stems. Soft stems are best cut up and thrown into your recipe with the leaves, whereas woody stems should be removed. Alternatively, you can tie the wooden stems together and toss the whole bunch in to your recipe – this is a great option if you’re cooking a roast or soup.

Chives

ChivesWhen: Clip leaves whenever they’re large enough to be clipped and used.

How: Gather leaves into a bunch and use sharp, clean scissors to cut them. Don’t clip too close to the bulb or they won’t regrow – leave at least ½ inch attached to the bulb above the soil. Cut from the outside of the bunch first.

Pro Tip: Chives produce edible flowers! The flowers won’t have the same oniony flavor as chives, so try using them as a garnish instead.

Let The Good Thymes Roll

Summer may be drawing to a close, but don’t despair! With autumn comes harvest, and with harvest comes delicious dishes chock full of fresh flavors grown right from your garden.

Not sure what to do with your herb harvest? Check back on Wednesday to learn how to preserve your herbs!


Susan Austin is Sales Director for Minigarden North America. She can be reached at susan@minigardening.com.