Published on 09/07/00

Harvest Herbs Properly for Best Flavor, Aroma

Season's End: Save Some Herbs for Cooking Magic

To get the best from those homegrown herbs, you have to harvest them when the oils responsible for their flavor and aroma are at their peak. Timing these flavor peaks depends on the plant part you're harvesting and how you intended to use them.

Herbs grown for their foliage should be harvested before they flower. While chives are quite attractive in bloom, flowering can cause the foliage to develop an off-flavor. Harvest herbs grown for seeds as the seed pods change from green to brown to gray but before they open. Collect herb flowers, such as borage and chamomile, just before full flower.

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Photo: Wayne McLaurin

To be dried for peak flavors and aromas, herbs must first be harvested properly.

Some guidelines:

  • Begin harvesting a foliage herb when the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. You can pick up to 75 percent of the current season's growth at one time.
  • Harvest early in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the heat of the day.
  • Pick leaves before flowering. Otherwise, leaf production declines.
  • Herb flowers have their most intense oil concentration and flavor when harvested after flower buds appear but before they open.
  • When picking herb flowers to dry for craft purposes, pick them just before they're fully open.
  • Annual herbs can be harvested until frost.
  • Perennial herbs can be clipped until late August in north Georgia and late September in south Georgia. Stop harvesting about one month before the frost date. Late pruning could encourage tender growth that can't harden off before winter.

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.