Harvesting rosemary is a way to enjoy the herb during the winter months or whenever the growing season is over for your garden. Over the years rosemary has become one of my favorite culinary herbs. There is a pot of it growing on my front patio, and another on the rear patio. Rosemary is one of those Mediterranean herbs that require very little effort to maintain and offers several opportunities throughout the year for harvesting rosemary.
Rosemary, a perennial herb, can get wonderfully woody much like a large bonsai. One caution when growing Rosemary in a container, it requires good drainage. Rosemary is used to dry rocky soil. Root rot will kill off rosemary quickly. Container plants should be repotted every two or three years and checked for sufficient drainage. In colder climates, rosemary tends to be fragile when temperatures drop below the teens.
Strongly flavored, rosemary, when used fresh, should be added sparingly in recipes. Pioneer Dad prefers to use it dried and ground up in a mortar and pestle with a little course sea salt. Poultry, fish, lamb and beef are all enhanced by its flavor. Rosemary is also a popular compliment for tomatoes, cheese, eggs, potatoes, squash, soups and salad dressings.
Tuscan Blue is my favorite for cooking. Blue Spires and Miss Jessup’s Upright are also good choices. The upright varieties with broader leaves contain more aromatic oil.
Well-developed woody stems, in upright varieties of rosemary, can be used as skewers for shish kebobs. Rosemary is healthy too, high in iron, calcium and vitamin B6.
1. When to harvest
Harvest from well-established rosemary plants. It is best to wait until any new growth has hardened off, usually in mid summer and early fall. Avoid harvesting while the plant is blooming. The best time for harvesting rosemary for optimum flavor is just prior to flowering. Cut the stems above the woody growth and avoid all dry, brown or yellowing leaves.
If the rosemary needs to winter indoors, minimize trimming during the fall. Keep in mind the desired shape of your plant as you harvest and avoid over pruning. Yellowing or dead branches can be removed anytime.
2. Drying and storage
Dry rosemary quickly to help retain its green color and essential oils. Longer stems can be tied into a bundle and hung upside down in a dark area with good air circulation. Smaller stems can be placed on screens. Allow 4 to 6 weeks for rosemary to dry completely. Store for up to a year, inside airtight containers, in a dark place.
If you are fortunate enough to have a dehydrator, rinse freshly picked rosemary and dry as thoroughly as possible by sponging with a paper towel and spinning in a salad spinner. Spread it out evenly on a dehydrator tray and put it in the dehydrator until the stems snap easily when bent, usually at 100-degrees for 1-2 hours.
You can also oven dry your rosemary. Rinse fresh rosemary thoroughly and dry off. A salad spinner works great for this. Place sprigs on a cookie sheet with a layer of parchment paper. Dry in the oven at the lowest temperature for 2-4 hours or until brittle to the touch.
Rosemary can be frozen, although some loss of color may occur. To freeze, place the sprigs on a cookie sheet that has been covered with waxed paper or place in a Ziploc bag. Strip off rosemary leaves when they are frozen and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
3. Favorite Rosemary Recipes
Now that you have a good rosemary harvest what should you cook? Well, here are four of my favorite rosemary recipes to try out: Red Onion and Rosemary Jam, Italian Flat Bread, Lamb Chops with Wine Reduction Sauce and Breakfast Biscuits with Rosemary.