Harvesting your crop is one of the most satisfying things about growing herbs. Taking a bunch of freshly harvested herbs to use for cooking in the kitchen is a real joy. However it’s important that, when picking your herbs you do not hamper further growth of the plant by picking too many leaves and preventing the plant form being able to function properly.
Each herb you pick and how you pick it will depend on what you want to use it for. If you just want a few leaves to add to a salad or a sauce you should just pinch each leaf off with your fingers, rather than take the whole stem. This will leave sufficient leaves in place for the plant to continue photosynthesising (making and providing food for the plant so it can produce more tasty leaves). However, if it is the end of the season and you want to harvest the whole plant to preserve for winter use (such as to make pesto out of basil), cutting the plant at the base of the stems or digging it up completely is recommended.
Tips for Picking Herbs
The time of day and time of season can affect the quantity of oil present in the leaves of your herbs. The oil present in the leaves can determine the flavour intensity of the herb and its nutritional content or medicinal value. Therefore, to achieve the maximum flavour of the herb, follow these simple tips:
- Harvest your herbs on a dry day, in late morning after the dew has evaporated.
- Harvest your herbs before the plants flower (the energy it takes to produce the flowers can reduce the oil content in the leaves and the existence of flowers can slow or stop the further production of leaves).
- Remove any flower heads from the plant to ensure it keeps producing as many leaves as possible.
- Harvest your herbs on the same day you intend to use them, preferably just a couple of hours beforehand. This preserves their freshness.
It is also important to ensure that your herbs are in tiptop condition before you harvest them. If your pick the leaves off before the plant has had time to establish, it could damage the plant and hamper its growth. The following tips will help you maintain healthy plants that will lead to bigger yields in the long term:
- Make sure your herbs have time to develop into healthy, robust plants before you pick the leaves off them.
- Never cut more than a third of the plant in one go and give the plants time to grow back before you harvest them again.
- Pinch the leaves off with your fingers or use sharp scissors. Always ensure the cut is clean and never cut the leaves.
- When harvesting plants for their flowers, (such as lavender), cut them just before they start to wither.
- Annual herbs, such as basil and coriander, should be ‘pinched back’ when harvested. This means you should only take leaves from the growing tips of the plants. This ensures that the plant will produce more leaves, produce fewer flowers and will lengthen the life of the plant.
- When picking chives, always cut leaves at the base of the plant. This will encourage new growth.
Harvesting herbs is easy and rewarding. Once harvested, rinse them in cold water and use as quickly as possible. This will ensure they retain all of their flavour and colour.