The proper time to harvest herbs really depends on the herb. For basil, you can harvest it at any stage of growth for the most part. The most important part to look at is the time of day that you harvest the herbs. For the best quality herbs, you’ll want to harvest them in the early morning when the weather is cool and the plant isn’t under any heat or water stress.
When you’re harvesting herbs there are a couple of different ways you can go about it. In this case, this basil plant is starting to put on some flowers. Most herb flowers are edible, so don’t be afraid of the flowers. When cooking in the kitchen, you’ll want the more tender herbs – the tender, younger leaves.
I have a nice, sharp pair of scissors. I prefer using scissors for harvesting herbs because I can get a nice, clean cut. I’ll trim the stem down a few inches. You can see I have a flower and some younger shoots. I could keep my herbs in this form, and pick off the leaves later in the kitchen. I don’t encourage people to trim the plant short, down into the plant, because the stems will get woody as the summer progresses.
When you’re cutting your herbs, you can just cut them into a jar of water, and then the herb will be nice and fresh for you to use later in the afternoon.
Another way to keep your herbs nice and fresh is to take a plastic bag and just put your herbs in the bag. You’ll want to make sure that the leaves of the herbs are dry because you don’t want them to mildew in the refrigerator. Just zip up the plastic bag and put them in a warmer part of your refrigerator. That will cool the herbs down and will keep them similar to lettuce, and you can keep them for about a week.
One thing to remember when using fresh herbs when cooking is that fresh herbs have a fresher, more intense flavor than dried herbs. So, you may not need to use as much of them.
This feature story prepared with Rebecca McMahon, Kansas State University Research and Extension Horticulture Agent, Sedgwick County. For more information, visit your local county extension office or visit our website at KansasGreenYards.org.