Quick Tips for Harvesting Herbs

Harvesting Herbs
It's that time of year again. You know, the time when you start saving paper bags and rubber bands for your fall herb harvest. Chances are you've been pinching back the blooms on your oregano, drying a bit of catnip for the cat (and for tea), and using your tender basil for fresh, gourmet pesto.

That's not all you should be looking out for, though. The parsley should be trimmed back, and the lavender may bloom again if you give it some TLC. The calendula should be in fine bloom, too, and provide a very nice bit of color in fresh salads and dried for potpourri and tea. Fall is the absolute best time in the garden -- next to spring, that is. So don't give up on a nice fall herb harvest just because it's unseasonably warm, wet or buggy outdoors.

These Tips for Harvesting Herbs Will Get You Started

Check descriptions for individual herbs to determine whether you should be interested primarily in the leaves, flowers or seeds. With some favorites like lavender and rosemary, anything above the ground can be pretty useful. With other plants like basil, it's the leaves you're after.

Harvesting Herbs
Have a strategy. Harvesting, drying, freezing and cooking with herbs isn't rocket science, but if you have lots of varieties to deal with, a little preplanning can be pretty useful. Basil doesn't dry well, so you'll want to freeze it or actually prepare recipes ahead and freeze them. For versatile herbs like lavender, you may want to dry buds and use fresh stems to make wands or in other projects. For herbs like lemon balm and some of the other mints that can be used in cooking, potpourri and other projects, understanding how you'll want to use them later will help you to determine the best way to preserve and store them now.

It will give you an idea as to the quantities you'll want to deal with too. There's a big difference between drying some catnip for your favorite feline and wanting a big batch you can donate to the local pet shelter or use for holiday gift giving.

Get your tools together. If you have a warm, dry spot in which to dry herbs in large bunches, you can accomplish a lot of harvesting in one go. Another option is to place large paper bags on their sides (with the erstwhile bottoms cut out) and fill them with herbs for open-air drying. If you have a sunny deck and little or no herb drying area indoors, this is a great solution. Whatever your method, make sure you have your tools ready before you start hacking away at your plants. Consider setting aside:

  • A good pair of shears
  • Paper bags
  • Labels
  • Twist ties
  • Baskets
  • Rubber bands (These are great for attic drying of herb bunches. The bands snug up as the herbs dry so fewer stems end up on the floor.)

Have your dehydrator, oven drying racks or pans, or other drying paraphernalia ready to go, too. If you're doing this in a few batches, gauge your volume so you don't pick too much at one time. Once an herb has been cut, it's too late to put it back.

Harvesting Herbs
Harvesting Herbs -- Quick Tricks

  • Avoid using plastic bags for harvesting. Herbs will wilt more quickly, and if left in the sun, you may end up with steamed herbs unintentionally.
  • Harvest in the morning before the sun hits the herbs but after most of the dew has evaporated. That way you'll get herb leaves at their most fragrant and flavorful.
  • Choose the best stems, leaves and blooms you can find in the garden. Avoid harvesting any herbs that look as though they may be tainted in some way. Make a cursory check for insect activity, too. Look for small holes, irregular leaf margins, the presence of eggs on the undersides of leaves, and the presence of cocoons or webs.
  • If you have lots of varieties with similar leaf shapes, like multiple mint or scented geranium varieties, label them as you pick them. I use bulk-food twist ties from the market. It'll save confusion and disappointment later.
  • You can place harvested herbs in a paper bag to tote them around, but I prefer using a couple of wicker baskets. They're inexpensive, handy and lend a kind of nostalgic "lady of the manor" grace to the process that seems appropriate. They're also easy to rinse or shake out after you've finished with them.
  • Leave harvested herbs in a shady but warm spot outdoors for a half hour after harvesting. This is usually enough time to encourage lingering varments to depart.
  • Before you take your harvest indoors, inspect it for insect eggs and cocoons one more time. Destroy any tainted leaves or stems. You checked before, but it never hurts to look again before you bring big batches of greens indoors.

If you plan on making an herb wreath or swag this year, leave some herbs on the vine for this last project. It's one of my favorites, and I usually put it off until the first frost is imminent: How to Make an Herb Wreath


  1. Fall is coming and I have Thyme, Sage and Rosemary in pots. I'm in Southern Ontario Canada. Should put the whole pot in the ground or just plant the herbs in some good earth for the winter?

  2. HI Maciver64,

    Either option would work for the herbs you mentioned -- with the exception of the rosemary. Most rosemary varieties can't tolerate a hard frost.

    Rosemary does do well indoors, though. Just be sure not to over-water, but keep the area around the plant moist with regular spritzing. A layer of mulch that you keep moist helps, too. You can take the rosemary back outdoors next spring.

    Of the thyme and sage, if you like the notion of having them in pots next year for your deck or patio,burying the pots and digging them up in spring makes sense.

    Give the plants a good pruning before you bury them, and add a layer of mulch, too. Getting the pots in the ground a month before the first hard frost in your area to give them time to adapt is also a good idea.



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