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How to Harvest your Herbs

When someone asks me how to harvest herbs, I usually say: "Just snip!"  

Sure, there's more to it than that. But it's not rocket science, by any means!

herb Harvesting guide

With a few simple tools and these basic harvesting techniques, your teapot will be filled with deliciousness - and your herbs will continue to thrive! 

harvesting tools

Basic herb harvesting toolsMy Everyday Herb Harvesting Equipment

What You'll Need:

  • Cutters -  Scissors, a small knife, or garden shears 

    Sharper is better. You want to cut  the stems of your herbs, not tear and squish them!

  • Container - A tea cup, tea pot, or harvest basket

    For my morning tea, I often take my cup or a small tea pot out to the garden, fill it with fresh herbs, and bring it inside to brew it up.  

  • Gardening gloves - You'll be happy to have them, especially when you're gathering hips from thorny rose bushes! 

When to Begin Harvesting

If you're anything like me, you'll have the urge to start snipping and sipping as soon as your herbs start growing. 

The minute the first mint shoots poke up through the ground in springtime, my taste buds say: "Yeah, baby - game on! Time for some fresh mint tea."

The urge is even stronger when my stevia plants start sprouting new growth. Sweet mother of everything yummy, I'm ready to whip up a fresh batch of stevia syrup!

Measuring height of young stevia plantGrow, little Stevia plant. Grow!

But ... early in the season it's super-important to remember that delayed gratification is actually a good thing.

Give your herbs a few more weeks to get a healthy growth spurt going, and you'll reap the rewards later with a much more bountiful harvest.

Helpful Hint:
 A tiny snip here, a little taste there. That's okay when your plants are young-ish. Leaving your herb babies half nekkid in their infancy? Nope, don't do it. 

So ... when can you begin harvesting your tea herbs? When they're ready.  

If you're wondering "what the heck does that mean?", here are some verrrrry general guidelines:

(Click any link in the table below for details on harvesting that herb.)

HerbBegin Harvesting
Chamomilewhen flowers are new and fully opened
Mintwhen stems have at least 4 sets of leaves
Lemon Verbenawhen plant is at least 8-10 inches tall and well leafed out
Steviawhen plant is 10+ inches tall and leaves taste super-sweet
Anise Hyssopharvest leaves before flowers bloom, harvest flowers when flower spike is 2/3 opened
Lemongrasswhen stalks are at least 1/4 inches in diameter
Rose Hipswhen hips are bright red and still firm to touch
Bee Balmwhen flowers are new and fully opened
Lavenderwhen blossoms are just opening
Lemon Balmwhen plant is 6 inches tall and well leafed out

Best Time of Day to Harvest

Conventional wisdom says that wind and sun sap the essential oils (the good stuff!) from the leaves of herb plants. 

For the most intense flavor, they say, it's best to harvest on a wind-free day, in the early morning, shortly after the dew has evaporated from the plant.

Well, that's an excellent plan -- if that perfect timing fits into your busy schedule. For me, it usually doesn't. So I harvest when I have time to harvest.  

Interestingly, I've noticed that some of my herbs (my lemon balm and stevia, especially) are more flavorful in the early afternoon, after the sun has had a chance to warm their leaves. 

Lemon Balm plant in the gardenLemon Balm in the Afternoon Sun.
Mmmmm ... Such a Sweet, Refreshing Scent!

Of course, who am I to quibble with the experts?! Taste test in your own garden. Snip your herbs at different times of day and see what you think.

What Parts to Harvest for Tea

Okay, let's "fast forward" to summer. Your herbs are well established in your garden or in their containers on your deck, patio or window ledge. 

It's tea time!!!

Part of the Herb Commonly Used for Tea

Chamomile X
Lemon VerbenaX
Anise Hyssop X
Rose Hips X
Bee Balm X
Lavender X
Lemon BalmX

herb harvesting methods

There are a few ways to go at it, depending on which parts of the herb you'll use to make your tea. 

Gathering Leaves

Harvesting leaves from your herb plants is simple. Cut a healthy-looking stem, then strip off the leaves. 

Snipping a stem of spearmint from the gardenHarvesting Spearmint from my Herbal Tea Garden

I usually cut just above a leaf junction (the place where a set of leaves grows out of the stem). That encourages the plant to generate new growth.

Gathering Flowers

To harvest herb flowers, either:

  • For "once and done" flowers (like chamomile), cut at the base of the blossom where the flower head meets the stem.
Cutting a Chamomile flowerHarvesting Chamomile Blossoms

Or ...

  • For "cut and come again" flowers (like bee balm and anise hyssop), cut entire stems, leaves and all, just as you'd cut a bouquet of daisies, roses or any other garden flowers. 
Bee Balm flowersA Bouquet of Bee Balm (Monarda)
Ready to Become "Oswego Tea"

How Much of the Plant to Harvest

A few basic principles apply, no matter which herb you're harvesting:

  • During the growing season

    Try not to cut more than 1/3 of a plant's growth at any one time. If you take away too much, the plant might have a hard time recovering from such a severe "haircut".  

  • At the end of the season

    Perennial herbs:  Stop harvesting about a month before the first hard frost is likely to hit your area. Your perennials need a little time to wind down before their long winter nap.

    Annual herbs:  As fall approaches, go ahead and cut, cut, cut to your heart's content. Annuals are "once-and-done plants", so pick and preserve as much as you can before the plant gives up the ghost.

Happy Herb Harvesting!

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