Monday, June 9, 2014

Harvesting Herbs for perfect flavor

Do you want to know when to harvest herbs from you garden? Here are tips I've garnered over the years. 

First off - is the herb something that you grow for the leaves, flowers, or seeds. That matters. For example, when harvesting (the evil) mint, pick the leaves you need. For thyme or rosemary you may take a whole sprig for putting with a roast. In other cases, like garlic, wait until the plant practically dies away and dig up the bulb. 



Tips for harvesting leafy herbs:

  • When: Harvest as soon as the plant is established and frequently to encourage plants to produce new leaf growth. (Chicago would say early and often!). I like to cut herbs in mid-to late morning when they are no longer moist from dew and after I've figured out dinner plans in early evening ;)   In the heat of the day, if it's really hot, plants may droop a bit and harvesting at that time may harm the plant.  Especially with the hot summer's we've had lately.  
    • They will have the highest concentration of oil in the leaves just before the plant starts to bud and flower. 
    • Once the flowering process starts, the oil in the leaves may be reduced and the flavor may change.  
    • Culinary herbs like  chives, basil, parsley, and oregano grow quickly and benefit from the constant harvesting (or pruning).
  • How much: It works best for me to occasionally tip pinching (choose succulent leaf clusters at the tips. If all the leaf clusters are routinely pinched off , the plant will sprout flowers simultaneously with the new leaves.) and then periodically harvest - cut the whole plant back.. 
    • A perennial can be harvest to about half its height
    • Annuals can be nearly decimated. 
  • Stop harvesting when:
    • Harvest annual herbs up until the die in frost.
    • Perennial herbs should not be cut back significantly after late August (it encourages new growth which will be too tender in winter.) Take smaller leaves for cooking only. 

Beyond leafy herbs, flowering herbs, like lavender, borage and chamomile, should be harvested before the flowers are completely open.  Lavender and tarragon flowers in July then the plant can be cut back by 50% to promote a second bloom in the fall. Same holds for BeeBalm (sometimes!)  Herbs grown for their seeds, like dill, fennel, coriander and caraway, should be harvested as soon as the seed pods begin changing color.

Specific herb harvesting guidelines:
  • Basil (Sweet) (Ocimum basilicum) - Green leaves can be picked about 6 weeks following planting. It is best to cut leaves for drying just before flowers open.
  • Borage (Borago officinalis) - Pick blossoms as they open. Use leaves fresh anytime; they are seldom dried.
  • Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) - Cut fresh leaves for use as they grow. Cut down all flowers.
  • Dill (Anethum graveolens) -  For best results, pick leaves just as flowers open. Pick seeds when they are flat and brown.
  • Fennel (Florence) (Foeniculum dulce) -  Pick seeds when ripe. The best stems for eating are the tender flower stalks just before they blossom.
  • Garlic - Gently dig up bulb in fall after leaves have started to decline.
  • Ginger - Gently dig up root when desired or as plants start to die (overwinter to have fresh ginger year round)
  • Lavender (Lavandula vera) - Cut whole flower spikes when the first flowers open. 
  • Lovage (Levisticum officinale) - Use the leaves fresh, or dry them at any time.
  • Marjoram (Sweet) (Marorana hortensis) -  Cut the leafy stems at flowering 
  • Oregano (Origanum vulgare) -  Use fresh leaves as needed. 
  • Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) -  Cut parsley when the leaves are of suitable size. 
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) -  Use fresh leaves (sprigs) as needed.
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis) -  Pick the leaves before or at blooming. Cut back the stems after blooming.
  • Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) - It's best to use young leaves and stem tips. 
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) -  Cut leafy tops/flower clusters when first blossoms open.
Here are some other blog posts on growing, maintaining, and using fresh herbs.

Enjoy!

Teresa Marie