How to Harvest your Herbs
Tools, TIMING & Techniques

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

Seriously, though, there's a little more to it than that. But it's not rocket science, by any means!

Stems of fresh lavender herbLavender Stems Fresh From The Garden

 

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With a few inexpensive tools and the simple harvesting techniques you'll see below, your teapot will be filled with deliciousness - and your herbs will continue to thrive all season long!
 

herb harvesting equipment

Basic herb harvesting toolsMust-Have Herb Harvesting Tools


Here's What You'll Need:

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

    Whatever cutters you choose, make sure they're nice and sharp. 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'll often take my cup or a small tea pot out to the garden, fill it with fresh herbs, and bring my tea ingredients inside to brew them up.  For more ambitious harvests, baskets are my go-to carrier.

  • Gardening gloves - I love my gloves! You'll be happy to have good, sturdy garden gloves, too - especially when you're gathering hips from thorny rose bushes! 

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When to Harvest your herbs

When 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."

Likewise, when my stevia plant starts 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 a good thing.  Give your herbs plenty of time to get a healthy growth spurt going. 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. Just be careful not to leave your herb babies half nekkid in their infancy! 

So, when is it okay to start harvesting your tea herbs?  

Here are some verrrrry general guidelines:

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.

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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

LeavesFlowersBothOther
Chamomile X
MintX
Lemon VerbenaX
SteviaX
Anise Hyssop X
LemongrassX
Rose Hips X
Bee Balm X
Lavender X
Lemon BalmX

 

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herb harvesting methods

Now that you know which parts of the herbs are best for your tea, let's look at the best methods for getting those parts off the plant and into your teapot! 

gathering leaves

It might be tempting to just snip the leaves off the plant. But that'll do your plant more harm than good.

Instead, cut a few healthy-looking stems first. Then  remove the leaves from those stems. 

Using garden scissors to cut a stem of mint from the gardenHarvesting Spearmint From My Herbal Tea Garden


I prefer to 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.

harvesting herb blossoms

To harvest the blossoms from flowering herbs:

For flowering herbs that repeat-bloom during the season (like bee balm and anise hyssop, for example),  cut entire stems - just as you'd cut a bouquet of daisies, roses or any other garden flowers.

Bright pink Bee Balm flowersA Bouquet of Bee Balm (Monarda)
Ready to Become "Oswego Tea"


For flowering herbs that only bloom once each season (like German chamomile, for example), you can cut whole stems ... or just snip the blossoms off and let the rest of the plant die back on its own. Your choice!

Cutting a Chamomile flowerHarvesting Chamomile Blossoms

 

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How Much of the Plant to Harvest

No matter which herb you're harvesting, a few basic principles apply:

  • During the growing season

    Try not to cut more than 1/3 - 1/2 of your 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.

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Herb Harvesting Guides

Anise Hyssop

Bee Balm

Lavender

Lemon Balm

Lemongrass

Lemon Verbena

Rose Hips

Stevia

 


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