Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.


Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.

Herb Harvesting How-To

by Sandra Bowens

 Here are the answers to all of your questions arranged season by season. Fully illustrated, this growing guide covers 64 different herbs.

New gardeners are bold when it comes to planting herbs but sometimes timid about how to harvest them. "I don't want to kill it," they say. The most important point to remember when growing herbs is that all plants benefit from snipping.


Regular pruning promotes good general health while preventing plants from getting "leggy" and unattractive. Not to mention, pruning provides you with tasty sprigs to bring into the kitchen.


The chart below gives you tips about where to snip along with tidbits of information you just might want to know. But first, let's take a look at a few herb gardening basics.


Annuals, perennials and a couple of other-ennials


These terms indicate what you can expect from the life of a plant. Annual herbs like basil or dill live for only one season. They go from seedling to a thriving plant that produces flowers and then seeds in a single growing year. The length of that year, or growing season, varies by plant.


Perennials are plants that grow over a number of years. They may go dormant, like chives or tarragon, if temperatures are cold during the winter but they will resume growing in the spring. Perennial growth styles depend largely on the climate (referred to as hardiness zones).


Two other types of growth habits must be mentioned for growing herbs. Parsley is a biennial, meaning it will grow for one season and in the following season it will produce flowers and then seeds. Some gardeners feel that the second season's parsley is not as flavorful as the first so they grow it as an annual. Another term you might hear is "tender perennial." These are perennial plants that can't take the cold; they will grow for years if they are in a warm climate but only for a season if the winters are harsh. Marjoram, pineapple sage and scented geraniums fall into this category.




Considering the information above, you can extend the life of an annual somewhat by snipping flowers as they form. To an annual, producing seeds, which is what happens after a plant blooms, is the signal that their lifespan is ending. If you do allow a plant to go to seed, however, you might be rewarded with "volunteer" plants in the next growing season. You might also collect seeds from certain plants, like dill and cilantro, for cooking purposes.


Most perennial herbs will flower, some more significantly than others. You can either enjoy this blooming cycle or literally nip it in the bud and cut them back. Your herbs will have a stronger flavor if you prevent the plant from putting energy into making flowers but some folks, like myself, enjoy encouraging bees to come into their gardens. Once the flowers are spent, cut the entire plant back by about one-third to prepare it for the next growing cycle. Remember, all herb flowers are edible (as long as they haven't been sprayed by something inedible).



A key for the table below:


A/P: Indicates whether the plant is an annual or a perennial


Pinching: Take cuttings at a point just above a leaf pair on the stem.


Clipping:  Cut at any point on the upper third of stems. Keep the shape of plants by cutting more but smaller sprigs all around the tops.


From the base: This method takes cuttings from the crown (where stems emerge from the ground) of the plant.


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