Growing and harvesting your own herbs is a delight. Not only will you add color, texture, and flavor to foods, but herb sprigs are also a wonderful addition to cut flower arrangements.
Taking frequent snippings from the herb plants encourages abundant new growth and keeps plants tidy. You can harvest herbs anytime throughout the growing season. Whenever you need small quantity of herbs for a recipe, just use a sharp knife or kitchen shears to snip an offshoot from one of the larger stems. Since the plant will produce new growth where you cut, it is better to snip off sections rather than plucking off individual leaves. Clean the herbs before adding to your dish by rinsing the sprig gently under cold water and then patting it dry.
Certain herbs should be harvested in a specific manner. They include:
- Parsley and Cilantro: Cut the stems around the outside perimeter of the plant, not the inside stems.
- Chives: Snip the leaf blades almost to the ground rather than just snipping off the tips. If you snip off the tops of the blades, the plant tips will turn brown.
- Mint: Like chives, snip the stem almost to the bottom to ensure bushy growth.
- Basil: Always keep basil from flowering by regularly snipping the top bracket of leaves. Use the extra basil as garnish or add to sauces, salads and vegetables.
- Chamomile: Harvest flowers the day they open.
- Dill: Remove flower heads for more fresh foliage.
- Oregano: For a large harvest, cut back to 3" just before flowering and again in late summer.
- Thyme: For a large harvest, cut back plant by 2/3 just before flowering.
When you want to harvest large quantities of fresh herbs, to dry or to make pesto, there are a few more things to keep in mind. The best time to harvest herbs is just before they flower. This is when their cells have the most oil, which is what gives the leaves their aroma and flavor. Different herbs bloom at different times during the season, so watch for flower buds or a single opened flower. When you see this sign, it's time to get to work.
Harvest the herbs in the morning once the sun has dried any dew. Wet leaves have a tendency to mold and do not dry properly. Morning is the time of day when the herbs' oils are most concentrated which means the flavors will last longer. The heat of the day causes the oils to disperse and may make the leaves wilt.
Grab a bunch of stems and gently shake them to dislodge any insects. Remove and discard any old foliage that has yellowed or turned brown. Most plants can be cut back by as much as two-thirds of their size. Don't cut the herb all the way to the ground. If you begin harvesting early in the season, you may be able to get up to three or more additional harvestings by the end of summer.