How To Harvest Your Herbs [Herb Garden Series]

It’s finally time to start harvesting my herbs! Actually, I’ve been harvesting my herbs for a while, I was just still calling it “pruning”  instead of “harvesting”.

There is a difference between pruning and harvesting herbs, but it’s a fairly small one 🙂

How to harvest your herbs

Remember my first post about how to prune your herbs? The gist of it was that when you prune your plants, prune them just above a pair of leaves. This will allow two new stems to regrow from the stem you pinched off, helping the plant to continue flourishing and even grow bigger than before!

Well, harvesting your herbs is the same idea; they both mean pinching or cutting off pieces of the plant, but they have different purposes. Here’s what I said in the original post:

  • To put it simply, pruning is strategically removing pieces of your plant in order to help it grow properly. There are many things you can accomplish by pruning your plants, and pretty much any plant can benefit from pruning. It can shape your plants so that they grow bushy instead of tall and spindly, encourage new growth (especially useful for herbs), get read of dead pieces, increase the yield of flowers or buds, and much more! You can prune a plant throughout it’s whole life to help encourage the type of growth you want.
  • Harvesting, on the other hand, is removing pieces of your plant for your use or consumption. Unlike pruning, you only want to harvest plants when they are ready to eat (or dry, or whatever), when they are at their peak flavor or scent. And you need to be strategic here too so that you don’t kill the plant by harvesting too much.

Basically you’re going to be cutting off pieces of your plant, and if you plan to eat those pieces, it’s called harvesting; if you are just trying to help the plant grow better it’s called pruning 🙂

For details on pruning, you can check out the original post about pruning herbs, or look at the update on pruning to see some good pictures.

As far as harvesting goes, it’s the same basic idea; try to cut stems above a pair of leaves so your plant can continue to grow. There are a few other differences depending on what part of the plant you want to harvest…


Harvesting the stems or leaves of a plant

– Never harvest more than about 30% of your plant at one time

You have to leave some big, strong leaves on the plant so it can continue to grow.

– Do not let your plant flower

If you only want the stems or leaves and aren’t going to use the flowers, there is absolutely no reason to let your plant expend all of it’s energy creating a flower! Once the flowers start growing, the stems and leaves change and become nasty and bitter. Pinch off any flower buds as soon as you see them starting to form!

How to harvest your herbs: Dill flower bud

I took the above picture of a tiny flower bud on our giant dill plant. The dill has been trying to flower for about three weeks now, but I pinch these buds off every time I see them. We only want our dill for its leaves, but if you want your dill for its seeds (or any plant for its seeds) you have to let it flower, cuz that’s where seeds come from 🙂 (More on that below.)

At the peak of its growing season, you’ll probably need to check your plants every day to watch for new buds. But you should be watering your herbs a little bit every day anyway, so you can check at that time.

– Don’t just pull the biggest leaves off your plant!

You still want to pinch or cut off the stem of a plant a quarter inch above a pair of leaves if possible, just like when you’re pruning. This is the best way to make sure that you get more than one harvest out of your plant.

If you start pulling leaves off your plant you are basically just killing it. Not only will those leaves never regrow, but if you pull the biggest, oldest leaves off of the plant you are removing its life support (remember? Photosynthesis?)

If you only want the leaves, cut the stem off above a pair of leaves and then pull the leaves off the stem. But don’t pull them directly off the plant.

And of course, now I’m going to contradict what I just said… Ready?

There are a few instances in which it’s okay to just start grabbing leaves off your plant.

  1. If your plant is SO HUGE that it won’t really miss a couple of leaves here or there, you can grab a couple of leaves as well as the stems you’ve properly cut off.
  2. If you’ve pruned your plant and have a couple of little stem buds ready to grow, but the older, bigger leaves are blocking ALL the sun, you can pull those leaves off. All leaves that get sun will support the growth of the plant, but it is helpful for new shoots to get direct sunlight; they will grow faster that way and your plant will get bigger, faster.

The important thing to remember is that once you pull off a leaf, the plant will never regrow there!

– Harvest right when the plant starts to flower

The oils in the plant that make it so yummy are at their peak right before the plant starts to flower, so this is the best time to harvest the leaves.

But make sure not to let the plant flower! The best thing is to harvest the stems and leaves when you pinch off the flower buds, that way it’s two birds with one stone 🙂

Harvesting the flowers of a plant

If you’re growing plants like chamomile, then you probably want the flowers instead of the leaves. You can harvest the flowers at any point after they are grown, but it’s best to harvest them sometime between when they are fully grown and when they start to wither and die.

How to harvest your herbs: Chamomile bud
Chamomile bud

Always try to harvest flowers when they are completely dry. If your plants live outdoors, wait until the morning dew has dried, and if it has rained recently make sure the water droplets have dried off.

There are two ways to harvest the flowers of a plant: cut the entire flower off the stem just below the head of the flower, or cut the stem (including the flower) off as if you were pruning the plant normally.

There are benefits to both methods. If you just cut off the flower head, the plant will regrow fairly quickly from that one spot and you will be able to continually harvest the plant. But you won’t have any stems to hang the flowers by, so you’ll need a drying screen (or I just use a mesh strainer…)

If you cut the entire stem including the flower above a pair of leaves, then two new stems will grow and your plant will keep getting bigger. If it’s early in the season I’d recommend this method so that you don’t stunt your plant’s growth too soon. Also, you’ll be able to hang the flowers by their stems in order to dry them. However, this method of regrowth is pretty slow; it will take a long while for the new stems to grow to the point where they will produce flowers again, so if you need a lot of flowers and quickly, the other method is better.

Harvesting the seeds of a plant

If you want the seeds of your plant, you need to let the flowers grow, die, and wither on the stem.

Usually you want to pinch off dead or dying parts of your plants, but if you want the seeds you have to leave the flowers on the stem, even after they have died. Soon a seedpod will replace the withered flower. Don’t pick the pod right away; leave it on the stem until it ripens. Usually you can tell because it will become brown and dried, or may even crack open on its own.

If you’re worried that the pod will crack open on its own, put something down on top of the soil around the stem at the base of the plant to catch the fallen seeds. If you let the seeds fall into the soil, the plant will most likely regrow itself next year (it’s called self-seeding).

Remember, seeding is the final stage of a plants lifecycle. Once it has produced seeds, it has accomplished its goal of trying to survive for another year, so it isn’t likely to live past that point if it’s an annual plant. If it’s a perennial it will go into “hibernation” mode and just sort of sit there dormant until next spring.

To harvest the seeds, wait until the pods are dried and brown, then cut the main stem of the plant off at the base (yes, cut the entire plant down) and then gently shake the plant over a paper plate or into a paper bag. If you need to harvest the seeds before the pod is fully ripe and dried out, pull the pod off the plant and hang it from the stem or lay it flat to continue drying.


And that’s all I know about harvesting your herbs!

We are growing dill, basil, catnip, rosemary, and mint for their leaves, and we have chamomile growing for the flowers. If we grow dill again next year we will probably let it flower after a while and harvest some seeds, but we’re skipping that piece this year.

All you gardeners out there, is there anything important that I missed? What plants are you growing, and what parts do you plan to use?

This post is part of a series about growing herbs indoors. You can see the rest of the posts in the series here.


I link up at these awesome parties!

Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. joan kuhn says

    9 years ago

    I’ve just discovered you and I love the herb harvesting information. I’ve been growing my own herbs for quite a while but you have helped in areas where I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Thank you so much.

  2. Heriberto says

    9 years ago

    What about basil

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      9 years ago

      For basil you want to harvest the leaves, so all of the tips in the “Harvesting the stem or leaves of the plant” section apply for harvesting basil!

  3. Marco says

    9 years ago

    Best practices to harvest whole plants to dry? Timing?
    Stage of growth?

    • Jessi Wohlwend says

      9 years ago

      When I’m harvesting plants to dry, I still do it a little at a time throughout the growing season. The reason is that on any given day, part of the plant will be sending out new growth while part of the plant will be almost ready to flower. But if you want to cut down the whole plant and dry it, I would just wait until most of the plant is at the stage you want it at. For example, if it’s a basil plant, wait until most of the plant is just about to flower, then harvest it. If you wait until the plant actually does flower, any part that has flowered is going to be bitter tasting. You’ll have to do a little work to separate any parts of the plant that were too far past harvesting time, or not quite at harvesting time so you don’t get weird tasting herbs, but that shouldn’t take too long!

  4. Kelley says

    12 years ago

    These are such great tips! I didnt know you shouldnt let them flower! Not that I can grow anything long enough for it to flower. Haha.. I have a brown thumb.

    Thanks so much for linking up to Financial Friday last week! I hope to see ya there tomorrow at 7!

  5. Charlene@APinchofJoy says

    12 years ago

    Very timely post with lots of good information! You are featured this week on Busy Monday at A Pinch of Joy! I hope you will stop by and grab a Featured Button from the Button Box on the sidebar this afternoon. Pinned. Can’t wait to see what else you’ve been working on!

  6. Trish @ Uncommon says

    12 years ago

    Ok. You are the official herb guru in my book! Thanks so much for sharing this at our link party this week! Have a great weekend!

    Take care,


  7. Betsy @ Romance on a Dime says

    12 years ago

    Wow – a lot of great information!! I loved seeing the pictures of your plants too. I’m so glad you linked up at Romance on a dime’s TIOT party!! Pinning this.

  8. Rachel says

    12 years ago

    You are very knowledgeable. I have not planted many herbs before. Thanks for sharing at Terrific Tuesdays.

  9. Denise says

    12 years ago

    Thank you so much for the tutorial.. I am a black thumb!! But I aspire to turn that black into green!!! I hope you don’t mind, but I shared this post on my blog..

    Your newest follower..

    Denise @

    • Jessi says

      12 years ago

      I don’t mind at all! I’m so glad you think the post is helpful 🙂

  10. Tauni says

    12 years ago

    Great post! I appreciate the detail you went into, I’ve always wondered about this…Thanks for sharing on Show & Tell at SNAP!

  11. ang says

    12 years ago

    Hi! What a great tutorial – I’m loving my herbs right now, and so happy to have these tips 🙂 I’m stopping by from The DIY Dreamer to say hello. I hope you’ll come visit me at

  12. Busy Mom says

    12 years ago

    Oh wow such great tips! Thanks for all the info! Visiting from Crystal’s!

  13. Renee says

    12 years ago

    Perfect timing to find you via the Dedicated House – my oregano may be too far gone, but at least I can keep my basil and mint happy now. Thanks for the tips!

  14. Katie says

    12 years ago

    None of my herbs are appreciating this string of 110 degree days we’re having. I think they’re all dead except the parsley and thyme, which are in the shade. Alas!

    You’re not growing parsley or cilantro…parsley seems to live longer than cilantro (which I know is short-lived and needs to be continuously sown or allowed to self-seed), but they grow similarly–not really off one central stem like basil and the rest. Parsley needs to be snipped off at the bottom of the stem close to the ground–it won’t branch the way the others do, but that should encourage new stems to grow. You’re supposed to do the same with cilantro, but so far as I can tell cilantro just up and dies anyway after a month or so no matter what you do. But maybe that’s just me.

    Parsley is related to carrots (fun fact: you can substitute carrot tops for parsley in recipes! Though perhaps only people with pet rabbits are more likely to have carrot tops on hand than parsley….).

  15. Shannah @ Just Us Four says

    12 years ago

    These are great tips! Thank you so much for linking up to the Pinworthy Projects Party!

  16. Sarah@sarahlyallhome says

    12 years ago

    I wish I would have seen this when I grew herbs last year. I had good luck growing them, but had no idea what to do with them.

  17. Christine @ Projects Around The House says

    12 years ago

    Great post on harvesting herbs. I never thought to pinch the buds of my dill. I usually let it bloom and then chop the whole plant down to dry. I’m going to try it this way now 🙂

  18. Jacque @theDIYvillage says

    12 years ago

    I seriously wish I would have seen this BEFORE I killed my Cilantro plant by over ‘harvesting’ it, the sweet basil survived but is now the size of a small shrub … no kidding it’s insanely huge! Anyone need some basil?

    • Jessi says

      12 years ago

      Aww bummer about the cilantro! And yeah, basil gets CRAZY huge, it grows like a weed sometimes!

    • Katie says

      12 years ago

      Cilantro is a bit of a different animal from the other herbs. It’s really short-lived and won’t survive long no matter how careful you are. You have to let it go to seed and self-seed, or continuously plant more seed, if you want to keep having cilantro. But, bonus, cilantro seeds are called coriander and are another spice used frequently in cooking, so it’s a good thing to get those seeds anyway. ^_^

  19. Carrie @ My Favorite Finds says

    12 years ago

    Thank you sooo much for linking to the Bloglovin’ Blog Hop! Great to have you!

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