How to harvest rosemary

Rosemary is a hardy, evergreen herb that is vigorous and fragrant. The needle-like foliage is full of aromatic oils that release in stews, soups, and sauces. Drying rosemary can help capture that aroma and flavor. Harvesting rosemary in summer for drying protects the essence of the plant and brings it conveniently to your spice rack.

Harvesting Rosemary

Tips on how to dry rosemary must include a talk on timing. Most herbs are best just before flowering when the oils are at their peak. Cut the stems in the morning just after the dew dries and before the heat of the day is at its height. Use pruners when harvesting rosemary from mature plants with woody stems. Wash the stems before you begin drying rosemary.

How to Dry Fresh Rosemary

Fresh rosemary is easiest to use because the leaves are soft and pliable. It’s easy to preserve the flavor of the herb, but drying rosemary makes the leaves hard and woody. The process of how to dry rosemary can include grinding the dry needles into powder for use without the hard texture.

You can just leave a stem of rosemary on the counter and it will dry, but to ensure safety and quality, a food dehydrator is useful. Dry the stems in a single layer on the dehydrator trays. Pull off the leaves after they are dry and store rosemary whole or ground. Other methods of how to dry rosemary can be done by hanging on a clothes hanger or pulling off the leaves and letting them dry in a single layer on a cookie sheet.

A pretty and easy way of drying rosemary is to make tied bouquets. The herb is attractive with numerous leaves and a rich, green color. When bundled and tied with a bright ribbon, the bouquet emits a fresh evergreen scent as it dries. Hang the bundles in a warm, dry area until the needles start to fall off, then remove the leaves by rubbing the stem upwards over a bowl or bag.

How to Store Rosemary

Storing herbs properly is crucial to retaining their flavor and usefulness. Herbs like rosemary keep best in cool, dark locations. Store rosemary in a tightly sealed container to prevent moisture from entering and causing mold. Dried herbs keep many times longer than fresh, but don’t last forever. It is best to clean out your unused herbs and spices twice per year to ensure they are at their best.

If planted in the right spot, rosemary is very easy to grow. Find expert advice and simple ideas for growing and using rosemary plants.

Rosemary in Container

Rosemary grows well in the ground or in a container, where it’s easier to provide the alkaline soil and good drainage that this Mediterranean herb prefers.

Photo by: Bonnie Plants

Rosemary grows well in the ground or in a container, where it’s easier to provide the alkaline soil and good drainage that this Mediterranean herb prefers.

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Rosemary gets its name from the Latin rosmarinus, which means "dew of the sea." While this name references water twice, growing rosemary requires careful attention to not provide too much water. The name really points to rosemary’s origins on the Mediterranean coast where the soils (and air) are dry and drain extremely well. Knowing this is key to successfully growing rosemary in your herb or vegetable garden, container garden or landscape.

Botanical Name: Salvia rosmarinus (formerly Rosmarinus officinalis)
Common Name: Rosemary
Plant Type: Perennial herb, semi-shrub
Bloom Time: Summer
Light Needs: Full sun
Soil Needs: Drier, well-draining, slightly alkaline
Hardiness Zones: 7 to 10
Size: Up to 5 feet tall and wide, depending on variety

Planting and Growing Rosemary

Rosemary is a perennial, though it’s not hardy in all areas, meaning it won’t stay alive through winter without some special care. See advice on overwintering (below) if you’re in zones 6 and below.

Otherwise, the trick to growing rosemary, whether in a pot or in the ground, is to keep the soil — and therefore the plant’s roots — on the drier side. Think about rosemary’s native habitat on the Mediterranean coast and try to mimic those conditions as best you can. Rosemary also requires full sun, which can help the plant and soil stay dry.

This aromatic herb grows well in basic, unglazed clay containers, which dry out quickly. In the ground, plant it where the ground drains well and won’t get soggy. And don’t overwater — spritzing the leaves and soil will be better than soaking it. Containers may need to be repotted once a year or so to stay happy, healthy and uncrowded.

Rosemary prefers an alkaline soil. When planting in a pot or in the ground, amend the soil or potting mix with a little crushed limestone to raise the pH. Position the plant with the top of the roots slightly exposed; cover the last half-inch with coarse sand instead of soil. This ensures excellent drainage near the crown.

Companion Planting With Rosemary

The evergreen-like aroma of this shrub is known to deter pests of all brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, and others), beans and carrots. It’s common practice to plant rosemary on the edge of a vegetable garden to provide benefits of a companion plant without stealing resources (water and nutrients) from annual vegetables. Remember that rosemary can spread to a few feet tall and wide, and plant it on the north side of the garden to avoid it shading other plants as it gets larger.

Overwintering Rosemary

Rosemary is hardy to about 20 degrees F, so gardeners below zone 7 will do best to grow it in containers that can be brought inside during winter. Rosemary is fussy about its winter quarters. Place in a cool sunroom or enclosed sunny porch. Temperatures should drop into the low 50s at night, and reach near 70 degrees during the day. Water just enough to keep the soil damp at all times, and use pebble trays to keep humidity high.

Rosemary hedge around seat in pool- smells so good!

Here, rosemary is grown and maintained (through pruning) as a hedge around a pool. The placement between bricks helps these plants by warming up the soil and improving the drainage.

An evergreen shrub, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a robust herb that is ideal for your kitchen garden. Rosemary grows equally well in the ground or in a container garden, just as long as it gets plenty of full sun. Furthermore, this Mediterranean herb is not particularly picky about its soil, as long as it’s well-drained soil. It’s easy to maintain and harvest. As a result, even novice gardeners should learn how to harvest rosemary, because anyone can keep it growing!

Whether you utilize it fresh or store it for later use in cooking, it adds a wonderful smell and distinctive taste to any recipe. The aromatic herb is also popular in the personal care product industry and is abundantly used in soaps, cosmetics, and even hair oil.

If you plan on growing rosemary in your garden or patio to enjoy a bountiful harvest, it is best to grow several plants so that you always have plants to take cuttings from. You can also preserve this lovely herb for long-term culinary adventures.

So today, we’ll examine everything you need to know about harvesting and storing rosemary. Soon you’ll be drying stems like a pro!

When Should I Harvest Rosemary?

Rosemary plant is hardy and produces a bountiful harvest in almost all climates. It can be harvested at any time throughout the year.

However, keep in mind that the rosemary plant grows most actively during the spring and summer seasons, so those are the best seasons to harvest. Don’t rule out the ability to cut a few stems for the kitchen in the colder months, though! Those in colder climates may want to bring rosemary plants indoors once the temperature starts to drop to continue harvesting through the winter season.

You can start harvesting rosemary leaves for daily use as soon as the plant becomes established. If you plan on growing rosemary for drying, it is best to wait until just before the plant starts to bloom. At this point, the leaves are loaded with oil content. Harvesting the leaves as soon as flowers start to appear will give you the best flavor and most aromatic leaves.

Like most other herbs, the best time of the day to harvest is in the morning. Wait until the dew from the last night evaporates from the foliage. Collect the leaves before it gets too hot during the day.

You can harvest the leaves whenever required, but the best practice is to take cuttings from plants on a regular cycle, perhaps as often as weekly trimming if your plants are large. Regular pruning will give you full, healthy, and bushy plants. The more consistently you cut to encourage new growth, the more you can harvest in the long term!

Make sure you perform the last harvest of the season at least 2 weeks before the first frost is expected. Harvesting rosemary plants often in cold weather can have adverse effects on the plant. Bigger and bushier plants are more likely to survive through the cold months.

How To Harvest Rosemary Plant

Growing rosemary in your garden can be a lot of fun, and the plant will spring back quickly. The first thing you need to do is to select the right branches.

Look for branches that are at least 8 inches in height. While it is best to harvest supple new tips or softer tips for fresh use, woody stems can offer some fresh use as well. These woody stems are excellent when used fresh for their flavor, and can act as a skewer for meat dishes.

Never trim more than 1/3 of the plant at any given time to make sure your rosemary plant stays happy and healthy. Use sharp and sterile scissors or garden shears to cut off the top 2 to 3 inches of the stem, leaving the rest of the stem’s length to encourage it to grow back fast and healthy. Let the branches grow back to at least 8 inches long before you harvest the same part of the plant again.

If you are harvesting for fresh use, stick to collecting new green leaves or soft stems. On the other hand, when harvesting for drying, you can go all out and harvest the plants up to the woody base. Be careful not to take too much off the base at any time to be sure the plant is able to keep growing.

How To Store Rosemary

Have you ever tossed fresh herbs because they went bad before you got a chance to use them? Well, your fresh rosemary will never go to waste again if you learn how to store it properly. Here are a few ways to make your freshly harvested rosemary last for a long time.

Storing Fresh Rosemary

Store rosemary sprigs in water, bouquet style, to increase their lifespan. Fill a vase or glass with about 1 to 2 inches of water. Submerge the trimmed ends of the sprigs. It is a good idea to remove the leaves that end up underwater so they don’t start to break down. Tent a plastic bag over the glass and place it in the fridge. Change water daily. Fresh rosemary stored using this method can last for up to 2 weeks.

You can also refrigerate the stems for short-term use without moisture. Wrap the stems in a couple of paper towels to keep the foliage dry. Seal the wrapped herbs in a plastic bag and store it in the refrigerator. Use cut rosemary stored in a plastic bag for 3 to 5 days.

How To Dry Rosemary

Wondering how to preserve rosemary for long term use? One of the easiest ways to dry rosemary is to use a dehydrator. However, keep in mind that excess heat from the dehydrator can damage the flavor of the oils, so it’s best to opt for a cooler drying method.

Hang-dry your harvest by tying the harvested stems together. Hang the bunch upside down in a dark, well-ventilated area. It usually takes about 10 days to air-dry the needle-like rosemary leaves. Once completely dry, strip the leaves off by running your fingers from the back of the stem towards the tip.

Store your dried leaves whole, chopped, or powdered in an airtight container. Dried rosemary can last for quite a long time, but for the best flavor, use within the first year.

Other Methods Of Storing Rosemary

Try freezing rosemary for another method of long-term storage. You can freeze the sprigs individually. Start by washing the herbs thoroughly. Dry the sprigs with paper towels and place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer to finish air-drying. Once the rosemary isn’t damp, place the cookie sheet in the freezer for about an hour.

When the rosemary is frozen solid, shift the frozen stems to a freezer bag. Label the bag and store your rosemary in the freezer for up to a year. For best flavor, use within 3 to 4 months.

There is no need to defrost your frozen rosemary before use. Simply remove the frozen leaves from their stem and add them to your favorite recipes.

In my garden, right next to the cottage I have a large rosemary bush. Every year I harvest that rosemary to dry it and preserve it for later use and give some of it to my friends. I learned some basic things about when and how to do harvest rosemary without killing the plant, and what to avoid in the whole process. If you have a rosemary plant or a friend with a plant in their garden you might have the opportunity to pick fresh rosemary. Here is the info on when and how to harvest your rosemary, for drying or smudging, in the bloom and at end of the season.

Table of Contents

When to Harvest – Right Harvesting Time

How long to harvest rosemary? This fragrant, vigorous, and evergreen herb can be harvested all year round although the best harvesting time is in summer, just before or during flowering when the aromatic oils are at their peak and the essence of the plant is best preserved. I also collect all my cuttings at the pruning time.

What is the best time of the day for harvest? Mid-morning is the best time to cut the stems to allow the previous night’s dew to dry and to avoid the height heat of the day.

Above photo: My rosemary plant in the full bloom, ready for harvesting

How to harvest rosemary without killing the plant – step by step

Here are the steps to cut rosemary without killing the plant:

  1. Step 1: Choose the right time to harvest – avoid harvesting in the winter (the dormant season)
  2. Step 2: Select new shoots from the plant that is at least 20 cm long
  3. Step 3: Cut the stems on about 3/4 of the plant max
  4. Step 4: Leave at least 1/4 of the branch intact with as many leaves as possible
  5. Step 5: Water the plant thoroughly
  6. Step 6: Add some fertilizer to help the plant to recover
  7. Step 7: Monitor your plant or bush regularly to spot any unusual development

If you have rosemary in your garden, then keep trimming some of the plants off regularly, like once a fortnight to encourage its growth. Unless your plan is to dry, don’t cut more than you need. If you cut more than needed, store your fresh rosemary in an airtight container, keep it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks or freeze.

Rosemary will grow pretty much all season, so continue to water and feed it and it will keep giving back and you’ll keep having even more rosemary you can use in your recipes.

Do you have to dry rosemary before you use it? No, you don’t have to dry rosemary before you use it. When you’re going to harvest your rosemary you just need to take as much as you need for your recipe. If you only need a little bit of rosemary for your recipe you just want to clip a little bit. I love to use rosemary when I’m marinating vegetables or I cut longer and older stems to use it as a skewer and squeeze my meat cubes right on it and put it directly on the grill. So, get some longer, woody stems which are great for skewers.

Above photo: My this year’s harvest

Harvesting Rosemary For Drying

If your intention is to dry the rosemary, it is better to wait with harvest until the plant begins to bloom, when tiny leaves contain the most flavor and the oil and drying at this time will preserve its fragrance, aroma, and flavor. The leaves and flowers are now full of aromatic oils that will release in sauces, marinades, stews, or soups. Its aroma will flavor vegetables or meat in many dishes. When harvesting mature rosemary plants with a lot of woody stems use the garden shears instead of scissors.

Video – Harvesting Rosemary

Here is a video of me harvesting my rosemary bush that I grew from cuttings

Tools you need

Harvesting is a simple process, you just need a pair of scissors for new stems or garden pruners for woody stems as in the above photo.

To Conclude

In my next article, I will tell you how to dry rosemary and how to harvest rosemary seeds – how to pick seeds from rosemary flowers to save them for seeding.

Fragrant, flavorful rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus or Rosmarinus officinalis) is among the most popular garden herbs to grow in pots and in bright, sunny garden beds. According to North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension, it thrives in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7a to 11a, where its attractive and highly fragrant foliage helps it serve a dual role in the garden as both an ornamental perennial and a culinary herb. Harvesting rosemary is simple, but both the age and size of the plant must be considered when harvesting so that the plant can recover and maintain its attractive appearance once the process is finished.

When to Harvest Rosemary

Rosemary can be harvested several times per year if the plant is mature and well-established. A plant acquired from a nursery can be harvested sooner and more thoroughly than a plant started at home from seeds or cuttings. The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recommends waiting to harvest until a nursery plant is three months old, whereas a cutting-propagated plant needs one year in the garden, and a seed-propagated rosemary plant needs at least 15 months before it is large enough to be harvested. Waiting for a rosemary plant to mature will help ensure that the plant is established enough to recover and continue growing after having its stems and foliage removed.

The University of Wisconsin Division of Extension warns against taking more than 20 percent of a rosemary’s plants stems when harvesting. Harvesting from multiple rosemary plants will reduce pressure on each individual plant and help them withstand the process with minimal damage. When harvesting, take growth only from the tips of the stems rather than cutting all the way back to the woody part of the stems because removing the woody stems can permanently alter the entire shape of the plant.

How to Harvest Rosemary

Harvesting rosemary should be done in the morning once temperatures warm and all dew has evaporated from the foliage. Snip off sprigs from the tips of the branches above the woody portion, as recommended by Penn State University Plant Village. Use sharp, sanitary shears or scissors for tough stems or pick very soft, succulent stems by hand. Take the sprigs from different parts of the plant rather than removing them all from one side, which can create a lopsided appearance in the rosemary plant. Avoid any sprigs that have a diseased or discolored appearance because the flavor and aroma may be altered.

Rosemary can be used fresh, or it can be dried for later use. Bundle the sprigs together, tie them with butcher’s twine and hang them in an airy location for several days. Choose a dry location away from sources of humidity. The University of Minnesota Extension recommends covering the herb bundle with a paper bag punched full of holes while it dries, which will keep dust off the leaves. The fragrant, needlelike foliage will come off easily when fully dried, at which point it can be stored in small glass jars in a cool, dark location.

Safety When Harvesting Rosemary

Maintaining sharp, clean tools will not only make the job of harvesting rosemary easier but it will also help protect the plant from damage. Have your shears or scissors sharpened each year to keep the blades honed and free from nicks, which can harbor pathogens. Also, dull blades will crush the stems rather than cutting cleanly through, which can open up the rosemary plant to infection and disease. Replace badly damaged shears entirely.

Before harvesting rosemary, wash the pruning shears in hot water to wash away any bits of plant debris left over from previous uses. The University of Florida IFAS Extension recommends soaking the blades in a solution of one part bleach to three parts water for at least five minutes to kill off any pathogens that can pass between plants. Bleach can corrode metal if left on the blade, so rinse the blade well after soaking it and wipe it dry with a paper towel. After drying the blades, spray them with lubricating spray to prevent rust.