How to Harvest and Store Fresh Culinary Herbs

Updated on August 17, 2017

Nothing beats cooking with fresh herbs. Only herbs and spices can take simple ingredients and transform them into something unique and complex. Buying fresh ones at the grocery can get expensive, but luckily they are easy to grow and quite prolific. When I started my first herb garden 3 years ago, I had many questions about how I should go about harvesting each one. So, naturally, I turned to gardening books and the internet. All I wanted was a quick guide on how to harvest all my herbs, but instead I had to research each plant and shift through tons of information on multiple websites in order to find what I needed. Then, I had to watch YouTube videos in order to understand what I read. Harvesting herbs the wrong way probably won't kill the plants, but it can hinder the plants' ability to produce at its full potential. So, I decided to take what I learned through research and experience and organize it into a simple, go-to guide for beginning herb gardeners.

General Tips

  • Usually you should not harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at one time otherwise you risk stressing the plant out. When a plant is stressed out it hinders growth and could cause it to die. Chives are an exception to this rule in which is perfectly fine to cut the whole plant at once.
  • Clean your scissors or cutting instrument before harvesting each herb. Some herbs are susceptible to disease which can spread to other plants.
  • It is best to harvest herbs early in the morning after the dew has dried. This is when herbs tend to have the most flavor.

Basil

  • Harvesting: You can start harvesting basil once the branch has 6 to 8 leaves. In order to have great tasting basil all summer long, be sure to harvest any branch that starts to bud before it flowers. To harvest basil, start at the top pf the plant and follow the stem down to where it branches off. You should see a pair of small leaves on both sides of the branching point. You want to cut the stem right above the branching point. The pair of small leaves left on the plant will eventually grow into two new plant tops.
  • Storing: To store fresh basil, trim the ends of the stems like you do with flowers. Place them in a vase, or glass, with fresh water. Make sure all the stems are in the water and remove any leaves below the water level. Basil is cold sensitive so make sure you store it at room temperature. If stored in the fridge, the leaves will turn black. Place a plastic bag over the basil but keep the bag open.

Bonus Tip:

Basil also burns easily so only add it once your food is fully cooked. If you need to add it in before then, make sure he basil is completely covered and not exposed to direct heat.

Harvesting Basil

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1.Start at the top2.Find a branching point3.Cut above that branching point
1.Start at the top
1.Start at the top
2.Find a branching point
2.Find a branching point
3.Cut above that branching point
3.Cut above that branching point

Oregano

  • Harvesting: Oregano is ready to harvest once the plant is six inches tall. When you harvest a branch, start at the top and follow the stem down until you are 2-3 sets of leaves from the base of the plant. Cut the stem just above that set of leaves.
  • Storing: To store oregano, wrap the ends of the stems in a damp (not wet) paper towel and place it in a sealed plastic bag. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.

Harvesting Oregano

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1. Start at the top2. Follow the stem down until you are 2-3 leaf sets from the base3. Cut above that set of leaves
1. Start at the top
1. Start at the top
2. Follow the stem down until you are 2-3 leaf sets from the base
2. Follow the stem down until you are 2-3 leaf sets from the base
3. Cut above that set of leaves
3. Cut above that set of leaves

Cilantro and Parsley

Harvesting: You can harvest cilantro once it is six inches tall. Parsley can be harvested once the stems have three leaf segments. Harvest the outer longer stems avoid cutting the center stalk. To harvest cilantro and parsley, follow the stem down to the base of the plant. Cut the stem about two inches above the ground.

Storing: To store fresh cilantro and parsley, trim the ends of the stems like you do with flowers. Place them in a vase, or glass, with fresh water. Make sure all the stems are in the water and keep the leaves above water level. If you have to, remove any leaf that touches water. Place a plastic bag over the leaves and glass but leave the bag open. Store it in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Bonus Tip:

Cilantro has a pretty short lifespan so sow seeds every 2-3 weeks to have tasty cilantro throughout the summer. In really hot weather, cilantro will bolt and go to flower faster. In this case, wait until late summer to sow seeds. Once it bolts, if you let it flower and go to seed, it will self-sow for that fall or next spring.

Harvesting Cilantro and Parsley

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Cilantro Parsley1. Look for the outer stems2. Follow stem down to the base3. Cut about two inches from the base
Cilantro
Cilantro
Parsley
Parsley
1. Look for the outer stems
1. Look for the outer stems
2. Follow stem down to the base
2. Follow stem down to the base
3. Cut about two inches from the base
3. Cut about two inches from the base

Mint

  • Harvesting: You can harvest mint once the plant is six inches tall. Cut the sprigs of mint 3-4 inches from the top, cutting jut above a set of leaves. Make sure when you cut the sprig it is at least an inch above the base of the plant.
  • Storing: To store fresh mint, trim the ends of the stems like you do with flowers. Place them in a vase, or glass, with fresh water. Make sure all the stems are in the water. Remove all the leaves that are in or touch the water. Place a plastic bag over the mint and leave the bag open. Store it in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Harvesting Mint

Click thumbnail to view full-size
1. Find a spring of mint that is at least 5 inches tall2. Follow the stem down 3-4 inches3. Cut just above a set of leaves
1. Find a spring of mint that is at least 5 inches tall
1. Find a spring of mint that is at least 5 inches tall
2. Follow the stem down 3-4 inches
2. Follow the stem down 3-4 inches
3. Cut just above a set of leaves
3. Cut just above a set of leaves

Rosemary and Thyme

  • Harvesting: Both rosemary and thyme are ready to harvest six weeks after planting. You can harvest rosemary and thyme anywhere along the stem. To promote growth, cut the sprigs 1-2 leaf sets above the woody part of the stem.
  • Storing: To store fresh rosemary and thyme, wrap the ends of the stems in a damp (not wet) paper towel and place it in a sealed plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.


Bonus Tip:

Unless you want to use rosemary as a skewer, avoid cutting below the woody part of the stem because it is not likely to produce more growth.

Harvesting Rosemary and Thyme

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rosemary1. Feel the difference between the new growth at the top of the plant and the woody growth at the base2.  Find the point where new growth ends and the woody stem starts3. Cut 1-2 leaf set above that pointThyme is harvested using the same steps
Rosemary
Rosemary
1. Feel the difference between the new growth at the top of the plant and the woody growth at the base
1. Feel the difference between the new growth at the top of the plant and the woody growth at the base
2.  Find the point where new growth ends and the woody stem starts
2. Find the point where new growth ends and the woody stem starts
3. Cut 1-2 leaf set above that point
3. Cut 1-2 leaf set above that point
Thyme is harvested using the same steps
Thyme is harvested using the same steps

Sage

  • Harvesting: The first year sage is planted, harvest it lightly by only pinching off leaves as needed. After the first year, harvest sprigs of sage by cutting anywhere along the stem above the woody part of the stem. Cut just above a pair of leaves.
  • Storing: To store fresh sage, wrap the ends of the stems in a damp (not wet) paper towel and place it in a sealed plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.

Harvesting Sage

Click thumbnail to view full-size
2nd year sage1. Make sure the stem is not woody2. Cut just above a pair of leaves
2nd year sage
2nd year sage
1. Make sure the stem is not woody
1. Make sure the stem is not woody
2. Cut just above a pair of leaves
2. Cut just above a pair of leaves

Chives

  • Harvesting: You can start harvesting chives once the plant is 10-12 inches tall. If you only have one plant, harvest the outer 1/3 of the plant. If you have more than one plant, you can harvest the whole plant. Cut the chives 1-2 inches above the base of the plant.
  • Storing: To store fresh chives, wrap the ends of the stems in a damp (not wet) paper towel and place it in a sealed plastic bag. Store it in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days.

Harvesting Chives

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Multiple chive plants 1. Gather the blades you want to harvest3. Cut 1-2 inches above the plant's base
Multiple chive plants
Multiple chive plants
1. Gather the blades you want to harvest
1. Gather the blades you want to harvest
3. Cut 1-2 inches above the plant's base
3. Cut 1-2 inches above the plant's base

Summary of How to Harvest Herbs

Cut near the base (1-2 inches above dirt level)
Anywhere along the stem (but above woody part of stem)
Other
Chives
Rosemary
Basil- Just above where 2 side branches leave the stem
Oregano/marjoram
Thyme
Mint- Cut sprig 3-4 in. from top
Cilantro
Sage
 
Parsley
 
 

Summary of How to Store Fresh Herbs

Damp Paper Towel and Sealed Plastic Bag (Refrigerator)
Vase with Water and Covered with Open Plastic Bag
Chives
Basil (Room Temperature)
Oregano
Cilantro (Refrigerator)
Rosemary
Parsley (Refrigerator)
Thyme
Mint (Refrigerator)

Questions & Answers

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      • Lizolivia profile image

        Lizolivia 

        5 months ago from Central USA

        Very informative, thanks. My coriander and chives have been troopers coming back every year, although I miss much of it early while preparing several other gardens. Basil has always done well near the tomatoes and lettuce, however, Mints and Oregano can become invasive, taking over the entire gardens, if not pruned back or potted. I've had difficulty getting thyme, rosemary and parsley to grow well. Probably the heat and may do better indoors.

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