I have been seeing a lot of big herb plants everywhere I go lately, which got me thinking about all of the ways to preserve herbs for the months we don’t have them fresh in our gardens. The first step in preserving them, however, is cutting them, so today I thought I’d show you how to cut herbs. Herbs are best harvested right as their flowers start blooming, which is when they are most potent. As the season chugs along, prune them and shape them to your liking, snipping off the flowers to encourage outward growth, and using the clippings for your meals. 

How to Cut Herbs:

How to Cut Herbs
How to Cut Herbs

When herb plants are about 8 inches tall you should start pruning them and using the clippings in your recipes. The more you do this, the healthier your herbs will grow. By pruning back a plant, you send it into emergency defense mode and it will begin shooting off extra leaves in all directions, making the plant bushy and full rather than tall and spindly. For this reason, it is much better to cut the stems than pluck the leaves when harvesting. It will force water and nutrients to the remaining leaves and stem instead of wasting the plant’s energy on the stem where the leaves have already been plucked.

How to Cut Herbs

Always Cut in the Morning

Always cut your herbs in the morning. As the sun gets hotter the natural oils retreat into the stem and away from the leaves, so cutting them early will ensure that what you harvest is the most potent. If your herbs are outdoors, stop pruning 3 to 4 weeks before the first frost so that the plants can harden off and survive the winter.

How to Cut Herbs
How to Cut Herbs

Rinse Before You Cut

When you are ready to prune and harvest herbs, rinse them first with a garden hose or watering can to remove any excess dirt.

How to Cut Herbs

For Leafy Herbs Cut Close Above the Second Set of Leaves

For leafy herbs like basil, mint, and lemon verbena, cut the main stem, close above the second set of leaves from the base. For herbs with more woody branches like thyme and rosemary, cut back the oldest branches so that more tender growth will sprout. Keeping them on the stem rather than just picking the leaves will help preserve their fragrant oils.

How to Cut Herbs

Remove Excess Moisture In A Salad Spinner

If you decide to rinse them after they have been cut, do it gently, and dry them in a salad spinner or on a layer of paper towel.

What are your favorite herbs to smell and cook with and grow? Tell me in the comments or on social media!

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Georgia Pellegrini

Growing up on her family’s farm in upstate New York, Georgia developed a passion for simple farm-to table food and a deep connection to the outdoors. Having worked in the finance world after college, she decided to leave her cubicle and reconnect with her roots. After graduating from the French Culinary Institute, she began working in Michelin restaurants in New York and France, and soon started leading her renowned Adventure Getaways: excursions around the country aimed at promoting “manual literacy” and helping participants step outside of their comfort zone and experience life more viscerally. Georgia is a firm believer in empowering people to be self-sufficient, identify personal strengths and pursue their life passions.