How to harvest rosemary – for delicious scent and flavor

Discover how to harvest rosemary for a healthy and plentiful crop

Rosemary hedge bordering ornamental grasses and flowers including echinacea
(Image credit: Photos Horticultural / Alamy)

Learn how to harvest rosemary and you can enjoy this sultry and fragrant herb for years to come. With its warm, spicy flavored leaves that go so well with roast meats, tomatoes and soups, this hardy evergreen herb is a staple in any kitchen, Mediterranean or gravel garden. 

Standing at around 78 inches (200cm) tall when mature, you can grow rosemary as a fantastically dense and aromatic hedge. The mass of tightly packed waxy green leaves also makes it ideal for clipping, so you can benefit not only from creating a striking year-round feature in your backyard but a crop of deliciously fragrant leaves too. Use these not only in cooking – they are delicious added to bread – but also add a sweet smoky note to your barbeque, pizza oven or log fire. 

Rosemary is one of our favorite aromatic herbs. Packed with strongly fragrant compounds including Pinene, Camphor, Limonene, and Linalool, rosemary essential oil has antiseptic, memory enhancing and energizing qualities. Its strong scent also makes it an effective insect deterrent: it's amongst several wasp repellent plants and mosquito repellent plants, so it's a no-brainer to include it amongst your herb garden ideas

‘Rosemary has a eucalyptus character akin to sage, although it contains more pine and floral notes and is sweeter,’ says Niki Segnit in her title The Flavor Thesaurus. ‘Rosemary tastes fine when it’s dried carefully, but it does take on the typically hay-like flavor of dried herbs, and noticeably loses the flavor of fresh.’

How to harvest rosemary

‘Rosemary is best cut back to just above a set of leaves on the stem, and not into the older woody parts,’ says Catherine Wallsgrove, owner of Pepperpot Nursery. ‘Use sharp knife or secateurs to get a clean cut and this will encourage new growth. You can harvest from all over the plant.’ 

Taking a year to grow from seed to a mature plant – or less if started from softwood cuttings – rosemary is a tough Mediterranean garden idea that can happily survive in poor soils with very little moisture, ideal if you are looking for drought-tolerant planting ideas. A sunny spot and free draining soil are a must, as this plant absolutely hates sitting in water.

Is it best to cut or pull rosemary?

Rosemary is a tough evergreen shrub that develops woody stems, when mature. To avoid damaging or weakening the plant, always snip off fresh sprigs cleanly using a sharp knife or secateurs. This will leave a clean cut that can heal over quickly, without giving dirt or bacteria the chance to take hold.

Does rosemary regrow after cutting?

The fresh, juicy stems of rosemary have the highest concentration of oils and the most flavor. Clip these for the best harvest and the plant should happily reshoot. Avoid cutting into the older, woody stems as this will not regrow and can seriously weaken the plant. If the bush gets too big or leggy, it’s best to start a new plant – either from seed or softwood cuttings. 

Jill Morgan
Contributing Editor

Jill Morgan has spent the last 20 years writing for Interior and Gardening magazines both in print and online. Titles she has been lucky enough to work on include House Beautiful, The English

Home, Ideal Home, Modern Gardens and Although much of her career has involved commissioning and writing about reader homes and home improvement projects, her

everlasting passion is for gardens and outdoor living, which is what she writes about for Homes & Gardens.