Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is an herbaceous perennial that thrives throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 10. Gardeners prize rosemary for its fragrant, flavorful leaves that can add a taste of the exotic to various meals. Get the most out of your rosemary shrub by properly harvesting and storing its edible foliage for maximum flavor.
The Best Time of Year and Best Time of Day
Rosemary shrubs start blossoming in the middle of summer. While you can harvest rosemary at any time, the best time of year to harvest rosemary is right before its flowers begin to open. At this stage of growth, the rosemary leaves have the highest concentration of aromatic oils and will smell and taste their best.
Regardless of what time of year you're picking the rosemary, the best time of day is in the mid-morning as soon as the sun has burned off any dew on the rosemary's branches.
Parts of the Shrub With Maximum Flavor
The tender, green, growing tips at the end of a rosemary shrub's branches have the most flavor. Picking the growing tips also encourages the rosemary shrub to grow in a dense, compact shape.
In general, avoid harvesting the woody growth on the shrub. However, if you're barbecuing, the long, woody stems can be picked, stripped of leaves and used as wooden barbecue skewers to add flavor to meat, seafood and vegetables.
The Proper Harvesting Method
To pick rosemary, simply snip off the growing tip of a branch, cutting as low as the first set of leaves above the woody, hard growth on the shrub. Pluck off the branch with your thumb and forefinger. Alternatively, you can use pruning shears.
After cutting a branch, strip the individual leaves off of the branch into a bowl or colander. Rinse the leaves well under running water to wash them. Discard the branch itself.
The rosemary shrub will produce new branches at the point that you snip.
If you use pruning shears to harvest rosemary, first wipe down the gardening tool with a sterilizing solution made up of equal parts water and rubbing alcohol. This sterilizes the shears and prevents the spread of plant diseases.
Rosemary tastes best when freshly picked. Harvest only as much rosemary as you need that specific day. If you accidentally harvest more rosemary branches than you can immediately use, put the unwashed branches into a paper bag and place the bag in your refrigerator's crisper drawer. Rosemary can be stored in a refrigator for up to seven days, though the quality and flavor of the leaves begin to degrade on the first day.
If you need to store rosemary for a longer time, dry it. Tie the harvested rosemary branches into a bundle and hang them in a warm, dry room for two weeks. Take down the dried branches, strip them of their leaves and store the leaves in an airtight container.