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How to Harvest Rosemary

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Late summer is a great time for harvesting rosemary. Rosemary is a robust plant can withstand both light and heavy harvesting as long as you do it correctly. This article covers when and how to harvest rosemary without damaging the plant so it grows back quickly, and remains healthy.

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A freshly harvested sprig of rosemary.
Harvesting rosemary.

Rosemary, or Rosmarinus officinalis as it’s scientifically named, is a hardy plant that is easy to care for in your home herb garden.

Once mature, it is a hardy plant that you can harvest from multiple times over a season if the right care is taken.

All you need to know is the best time of year, and the right way to harvest it to encourage growth. If you do this, just one or two full-size plants can provide ample fresh rosemary throughout the summer, as well as a batch for storage in the fall.

Scroll down for the printable step-by-step guide to harvesting rosemary, or read on for all the details.

When to harvest rosemary

When can you start to harvest rosemary plants?

The size of the plant is the most crucial factor in determining when to harvest rosemary. If you just planted fresh seedlings this year, wait until they reach a height of several inches and begin to bush out before harvesting any significant amount.

You can pick a nursery plant after three months. In contrast, a cutting-propagated plant should remain in the garden for one year, and a seed-propagated rosemary plant should be allowed to grow for around 15 months before taking a significant harvest (i.e. more than just a couple of sprigs).

You can harvest from mature rosemary plants at any time, but for multiple harvests wait until your plants have recovered the growth you removed at the last harvest. If you just need a sprig or two for your recipe, it is fine to pick it any time.

What time of year to harvest rosemary

You can harvest from your rosemary plants all year if you live in an area where it is evergreen. However, spring and summer are the preferred harvest seasons because the sprigs grow back more rapidly, allowing you to harvest from the same plant again sooner.

During this spring and summer, I recommend trimming the plant at least every two weeks to encourage fresh growth. During the pruning process, I also gather all of my cuttings and either store them fresh or dry them.

See my article on what to do with rosemary cuttings for more ideas on how to use them.

The best season to harvest a large crop of this fragrant, evergreen herb is in the summer, just before flowering (or just as the plant begins to flower). This is when the aromatic oils are at their highest, and you can best retain the herb’s flavor. Once the plant has flowered you will find its aroma starts to fade.

The end of the summer is the perfect time of year for harvesting a large batch to dry and store for use in the colder months when your rosemary plant becomes dormant.

Check out this article for more details on drying rosemary.

If you just need a few sprigs you can pick rosemary at any point during the year. Keep in mind, though, that the rosemary plant grows most vigorously in the spring and summer, so those are the best times to harvest. In the winter, you can still take a few stems for the kitchen when dried rosemary just won’t do, but don’t expect it to grow back until the springtime.

If you live in a chilly climate, you may want to bring your rosemary plants inside once the weather starts to cool so you can continue harvesting throughout the winter.

How to harvest without damaging the plant

When harvesting rosemary, use a small set of sharp and sterile garden shears or scissors to prevent disease.

Don’t pick more than approximately one third of the total plant at a time and let it regenerate before cutting it again. The time it takes to regenerate will depend on the season, which is why I recommend only taking a significant harvest in the spring or summertime.

Rosemary, like many other herbs, will actually benefit from regular harvesting. To harvest rosemary so it keeps growing, take a few inches from the tops of your plants regularly allowing it to regrow before taking more.

This will provide you with herbs for cooking and keep your plants in good shape.

Which parts of the rosemary plant to harvest

Look for branches with a height of at least 8 inches. While it’s preferable to collect supple young tips or softer tips for fresh use, you can also use woody stems. The flavor of these woody stems is fantastic when used fresh, and you can also use them like a skewer for meat dishes.

To keep your rosemary plant happy and healthy, never cut more than a third of the plant off at a time. Instead, cut off the top 2 to 3 inches of each stem, leaving the remainder of the stem length to encourage it to grow back quickly.

You can harvest a few longer 6-8” sprigs for cooking or drying, but always leave a few inches of a branch on the plant to allow it to regrow. Then, before harvesting the same part of the plant again, let the branches grow back to at least 8 inches in length.

How much can you harvest at one time?

Never take more than a third of a rosemary bush at a time. To guarantee that the plant thrives and produces new sprigs, leave at least 2/3 of the plant intact. Allow the rosemary plant to regrow before harvesting more.

Even if you aren’t harvesting rosemary for use, you should prune it many times a year to keep it healthy. Remember not to prune rosemary or take a large harvest too close to winter because it will not regrow quickly.

Instead, harvest your last crop at least two weeks before the first frost is expected, to give it time to recover before winter arrives.

More prominent, fuller rosemary shrubs have a better chance of surviving the winter.

How to store rosemary after harvesting

There are a few options available for storing rosemary, and they include:

  1. Stand the sprigs in a glass of cool water (like cut flowers). They should stay fresh for a couple of weeks.
  2. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container with damp paper towels.
  3. Store in the freezer for a few months.
  4. Make herb-oil cubes and store in the freezer for a few months.
  5. Dry your rosemary. If dried and stored correctly it should last for up to two years.

To store rosemary for the longer term, drying is your best option. See our articles on Drying Rosemary and how to store dried herbs for more info.

Step-by-Step Tutorial: How to Harvest Rosemary

A freshly harvested sprig of rosemary.
Yield: Rosemary

How to harvest rosemary

How to harvest rosemary without damaging the plant.

Tools

  • Garden shears or scissors

Instructions

  1. Choose the rosemary sprigs to harvest - select a branch that is 8 inches tall or longer and has soft green growth [Note 1].
  2. Use secateurs or scissors to cut the top 2-3 inches from the branch.
  3. If you’re not harvesting in significant quantities, you might want to start with the longer, overgrown branches.
  4. If you taking a large harvest, don't harvest more than a third of the plant to ensure it remains healthy and can grow back after harvesting.
  5. Once you have harvested your rosemary sprigs, give them a quick rinse under cool water to remove any dirt and pat dry with a paper towel to remove any excess water.

Notes

  1. The best time of year to harvest rosemary is when it is most active, usually in the spring and summer.

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