Green Patch: Harvesting Herbs

Harvest your herbs at their peek with these herbal tips.

| August/September 2004

Q: My herb garden is growing beautifully and I have lots of stems to gather and dry. What’s the best way to harvest herbs so I capture them at their peak?


A: You are wise to plan ahead for a bountiful harvest because how herbs are handled before, during and just after they are gathered definitely affects their quality. Careful attention to details will make harvesting fast and enjoyable, and also insures that you will be able to taste and smell summer when you use your herbs for cooking, crafts or tasty teas.

Begin by bringing your plants into top condition while they are still in the ground. A week or so before you plan to pick, carefully check each plant and use a small pair of scissors to snip out any branches that show damage from insects or disease. Pick off blemished leaves, too, and use a stick to stir spider webs into oblivion.

After this pre-harvest grooming, I like to treat plants to a weak drink of organic fertilizer. Mix a water-soluble fertilizer at half the rate recommended on the package, and thoroughly soak the root zones. I pour from a plastic soda bottle to avoid getting the fertilizer on the leaves. This close to harvest time, I don’t want anything on the leaves except clean water and sunshine.

Warm sun stimulates the production of essential oils in herb leaves, especially if the plants are very slightly stressed by drought. Three days or so before you harvest, put a nozzle on your hose to provide a fine spray and gently clean the plants by washing them down at different angles. Pay particular attention to leaf undersides where dirt often accumulates. Do this in the morning if you can, so the wet foliage will have ample time to dry completely before night. Unless the soil is very dry, don’t water your herbs again until you are ready to gather the stems.

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