Harvesting Herbs at Their Peak Flavor

Vego Garden
Vego Garden

In the middle of summer, herbs appear at their full splendor, and it almost seems like a disservice to trim back their verdant foliage. But waiting until the end instead of throughout the summer to harvest them can cause them to lose their potency. Many herbs will bolt and become bitter, becoming unpalatable. Below is a guide on how to harvest herbs at their peak flavor before they bolt or lose potency in the late summer heat. 

Growing and Harvesting Herbs

Most herbs will benefit from consistent harvesting throughout the growing season. Because their flavor tends to dissipate in the heat of the sun, herbs should be harvested early in the day after the morning dew evaporates, when their flavor is at its strongest. Edible leafy herbs should be harvested before they flower, or bolt. 

While some gardeners choose to use their fingers, others opt for pruners or herb strippers for increased efficiency. A Hori Hori knife is recommended for harvesting larger woody-stemmed herbs such as lavender, rosemary, and thyme. A multipurpose tool with serrated edges, this knife is great for digging out root vegetables, cutting herbs, and removing weeds. For a convenient way to store all your garden tools during a day out in the garden, check out this sturdy garden bag, designed for both comfort and utility. 

General Tips 

  • Make a clean cut at an angle when cutting herbs. 
  • Annual herbs can be harvested until frost. 
  • Perennial herbs can be harvested until late August. 
  • Water before harvesting. The optimal time is in the early morning after the dew has evaporated. 

How to Harvest Herbs 

When harvesting herbs, it can be beneficial to differentiate between perennial and annual herbs. Choose stems that are characterized by lush leaves and fullness, then pinch off the leaves right above a leaf cluster. This promotes additional foliage growth and causes the plant to become lusher and fuller. 

  • Harvesting Perennial Herbs: In general, perennial herbs such as sage, oregano, and thyme are the easiest to harvest. Simply remove a third of the plant’s top growth at regular intervals during the growing season. Hold off harvesting in late summer to allow the plants to store enough carbohydrates for overwintering. 
  • Harvesting Annual Herbs: Harvest annual herbs regularly during the summer up until the killing frost. At the end of the growing season, cut down annual herbs to the root level and perennial herbs to about two-thirds of the plant.  
  • Seeds: Although it can seem strange, some herbs like coriander, anise, and dill are harvested for their seeds to be used as culinary spices, and as such, require careful timing. Allow the herb to flower and the seed heads to turn brown before harvesting. Oftentimes, seeds will spill out when the seed head is disturbed. Once the seeds have dried, hold a container below and use an herb snip or pruner to cut off the seed head.

Understanding When to Harvest Various Plant Parts

The practice of using herbs, roots, and flowers date back to antiquity, where many of them have found their use in spellwork and medicine. Depending on the intended use, the time of harvest may vary, but there are general practices to adhere to.  

  • When to Harvest Flowers: Several herbs produce aromatic flowers that can be used as garnish, decoration, or ingredients in medicinal remedies. Flowering herbs retain their flavor the best when the flowers have just opened or are about to open. Pick a dry, sunny day to harvest – some drought-tolerant varieties will even develop an improved flavor after prolonged periods of dryness. 
  • When to Harvest Roots: Roots are often overlooked due to their grimy appearance, but for the frugal homesteader, they can aid in alleviating digestive issues and offering immune support. Herbs that are harvested for their roots include dandelion, marshmallow plant, ginger, turmeric, and burdock. To harvest, dig the roots up at the end of the growing season with a hori hori knife or trowel. In large perennials, the peripheral roots can be harvested, leaving the main roots intact. Biennial plants should be harvested at the end of the first season, as they tend to become woody and lose their potency. 
  • When to Harvest Fruits: Though not typically considered herbs, some shrubs will bear berries – often red in color – that can be harvested for their flavonoids and anthocyanins. These include hawthorn, cranberry, bilberry, and elderberry, and are harvested when ripe, usually from late summer to mid-fall. One exception is rosehips, which should be harvested after the first frost. The freezing temperatures alters the chemical composition in rose hips, increasing its antioxidants. 

Is it cheaper to grow your own herbs instead of buying them?

Even if it might not seem that way, buying herbs from the grocery store is often more expensive. Repeated purchases for fresh herbs or spices in plastic containers can quickly add up, especially if you are constantly using them in your cooking. Save money by growing herbs, which are among the cheapest and easiest plants to grow. Those who are already growing an edible vegetable garden can consider growing herbs alongside their crops – Vego Garden raised beds are configured to optimize the space between your crops, resulting in a plentiful yield. 

Why should I grow an herb themed garden? 

An herb garden is an easy way to guarantee access to a supply of fresh herbs year-round. Many beneficial medicinal properties can be derived from culinary herbs, and they make great companion plants for popular garden crops. A variation of the simple herb garden is an apothecary garden, which features traditional herbs that were once cultivated by monasteries during the Middle Ages to treat infirmities. To inspire a quaint, rustic atmosphere, supplement with native wildflowers and incorporate stone paths or fountains. 

To cultivate an herb garden, curate herbs and flowers that are compatible with each other and arrange them in accordance with their requirements. Raised garden beds are ideal for growing herbs because they allow for more accessible, low-maintenance gardening. For beginners, we recommend the more compact Kid’s Garden Bed or Vego Herb Garden Bed pack.

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