Learning how to harvest your herbs the correct way ensures that all your hard work and effort of growing them doesn’t go to waste. It also enables you to get the best out of your herbs.
How To Harvest Your Herbs In 3 Steps
Here is how to harvest your herbs broken down into three simple steps:
The first step is to establish whether your herb is annual, perennial or biennial and then learn when the best time is to harvest them.
Snip or cut the part of the herb you plan to use using herb scissors or pruning shears.
Preserve your herbs by either drying them or freezing them. To find out more about the best methods for preserving your herbs please read this blog post.
When To Harvest Your Herbs
It’s important to harvest your herbs at the right time to get the maximum benefit from them for making herbal medicines. There are certain things you need to consider before you harvest your herbs.
Harvesting should be performed when the oils in the herbs are at their highest. The correct time to harvest the herb depends on which part of the herb you plan to harvest and your intention for it afterwards. How are you planning on using the herb? You also need to consider whether the herb is annual or perennial.
Time Of Day
Consider the time of day before you harvest your herbs. Earlier in the day is recommended as the plants should have dried off from the early morning dew, but it shouldn’t be too hot. This is the point when the essential oils within the herbs are at their peak.
Harvest Before They Flower
Any herbs that are being grown for their leaves, for example mint, need to be harvested before they start to flower. Harvest herbs before they start to flower otherwise you could hinder their leaf production. Plus, the leaves medicinal potency is highest before the plant has to use energy to start producing flowers. Regularly deadheading (removing the dead flowers) from your herbs helps to promote further growth in some species, like basil.
Harvesting For Essential Oils
If you plan to harvest your herbs or flowers for their scent or flavor you need to do this before they bloom. The buds contain the highest levels of concentrated essential oils and once they open that level begins to fall.
Harvesting For Flowers
If you wish to harvest the flowers from your herbs to dry out, to make plant medicine or to use in flower arrangements, you should aim to harvest them after the buds have opened but slightly before they fully flower. This ensures that you are harvesting the flowers at peak potency for your herbal medicines. Try making tinctures, shrubs, oils, herbal vinegars, honeys, or glycerites with your herb flowers. Make sure before hand that the flower can be consumed first and used for that specific herb as a medicinal plant in your herbal medicines and salves.
Harvesting For Roots
Harvesting for the roots of an herb needs to be done when the foliage on the plant begins to dry. This generally happens in the fall. The leaves and flowers of the plants will begin to wilt and die back, moving the energy from the leaves and flower production back into the root system, making this the ideal time to harvest herb roots as the medicinal properties will be at their peak. Some species need two years of root growth before they should be harvested for medicinal purposes, such as burdock.
Harvesting Annual, Perennial and Biennial Herbs
An annual herb will complete its life cycle in one growing season, after that season it will die. You need to replant annual herbs every year.
Examples of annual herbs include:
Harvesting Annual Herbs
Most annual herbs can be harvested throughout the summer months, however, the correct time to harvest an annual herb will depend on the herb itself as they are all slightly different. As a general rule you can harvest an annual herb when it has enough foliage to recover. You can cut back an annual herb up to 50% and they should still recover.
Top Tip: Aim to leave between four and six inches of the plant for good regrowth.
A perennial herb is an herb that lives for longer than two years. The term can also be used to describe shrubs or trees that have little woody growth.
Here are some examples of perennial herbs:
• Lemon balm
Harvesting Perennial Herbs
It’s recommended to harvest perennial herbs all through the summer right up until two months before the first frost. Perennial herbs can withstand you cutting around one-third of their growth at a time. Don’t harvest them too late in the season or the plant won’t grow back as strong meaning it won’t have time to harden before the frosty season. We’d recommend using pruning shears for a sharper cut that won’t damage the plants growth and repair leaving it less likely of infection.
It’s also worth mentioning biennial herbs which are flowering herbs which generally take two years to complete their life cycle in temperate climates. The plant will complete most of its growing within the first year.
Examples of biennial herbs are:
• Evening primrose
• French parsley
Harvesting Biennial Herbs
Always wait until the herb has enough foliage on it so it can continue to grow after you harvest it.
Now that you know how to correctly harvest your herbs the next step is preserving them. Please read this blog post to find out the best herb preserving methods.