11 Tips for Harvesting and Preserving Fresh Herbs

“I’ve been planning to transform some part of my garden to a herb garden. I am still reading a few more materials so that I can ensure that it’ll be successful. How about you? Do you have one at home or still planning like I do?”

11 Tips for Harvesting and Preserving Fresh Herbs


Whether you grow them for their many medicinal purposes, for use in the kitchen, or simply for their beauty and fragrance – herb gardening can be a lot of fun!  Knowing when to plant and how to care for your herbs is half of being a successful gardener.  Often more important is knowing the proper techniques for harvesting your precious herbs.  Read on for some priceless tips and tricks that will help you get the most out of your garden.

1. The One Third Rule

For most herbs, you never want to harvest more than one third of the entire aerial growth at one time.  This ensures that the plant will have plenty of leaves to regrow itself afterward.  However, there are some exceptions to the rule.  Chives, for example, grow back faster if  all of the leaves are cut off within an inch to a half inch from the ground.  Many species in the mint family (including catnip and lemon balm) regrow more efficiently if all of the stems are harvested at once – cut above the first or second set of leaves from the base of the crown.

2. When to Begin Harvesting

The earliest time that its safe to harvest your herbs varies from plant to plant.  Here are some of the most commonly grown herbs and their corresponding ages or times of year to begin harvesting:

  • Basil – Once the plant reaches 6 – 8” in height.
  • Chives – As soon as the leaves are thick enough to use.
  • Cilantro – Once stems are 6 – 12” long.
  • Lavender – Harvest at any time once stems have flowered.
  • Lemon Balm – Leaves may be harvested at any time during the growing season.
  • Oregano – Sprigs may be harvested once the plant reaches 3 – 4” tall.  Best in mid-summer.
  • Parsley – Any time after mature leaves appear.
  • Peppermint – Harvest at any time during the growing season.  Best just before blooms appear.
  • Rosemary – May be harvested at any time.
  • Sage – Harvest only lightly during the first year of growth.  Second growing season and thereafter, harvest any time year-round.
  • Tarragon – Any time after new growth begins in spring.
  • Thyme – Harvest at any time.  Best just before blooms appear.


3. How to Harvest

Different types of plants have different preferred methods of harvesting.  Leafy annuals like basil should be gathered by pinching off bunches of leaves from the tips of the stems.  Be sure to clip stems close to a leaf-pair so as not to leave a stub.  This will help the plant to regrow and encourage bushier plants with more tender leaves for the next harvest.  Herbs with long stems like cilantro, parsley, lavender, and rosemary should be cut near the base of the plant – about an inch from the ground.  Leafy perennial herbs such as oregano, thyme, sage, and tarragon can be harvested by the stem or sprig.

4. Flower, Seed, or Leaf?

Some herbs may be harvested for multiple purposes.  Knowing when and how to harvest these plants for your specific purpose may require a bit of finesse.  Cilantro, for example, has a short life-span that progresses rapidly from seedling to flower and seed. If your goal is to harvest cilantro for its leaves, you’ll have to keep an eye on these plants.  Once they bolt, leaves become scarce and the herb will have to be …


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