Edible Parts of Culinary Herbs
Answered by: Inge Poot
Question from: Mary Friedman
Posted on: April 26, 2002

I am brand new at growing herbs. I have Italian parsley, oregano and thyme. The little plants look great, with a lot of growth. The basic question I have is what is the edible part of the plants? Should I detach the actual leaves from the stems, or are soft stems as edible and palatable as the "leaves". I keep reading about harvesting right before flowering, etc. I see no "flowers" yet. Can you give me some elementary (very!) advice.

Most of the time the stems are fine if used in say a soup and then fished out just before serving. If they are soft they will get even softer on cooking and can be left in the dish. Oregano and thyme will get quite woody in their stems as the plants get more mature and as they get more sun. Those stems would not be suitable for presenting at the table, but are great for adding flavour, especially if you don’t have all that much of the herb to start with.

Leaves almost never get tough and if chopped before being added to the dish should be left in the dish for serving . An exception that comes to mind is bay laurel. The leaves should be added whole to the dish, so that they can be easily fished out at the end of cooking. They remain so hard, that they could injure the digestive tract if eaten whole or in large pieces.

Plants like parsley never get truly tough in either leaf or stem. If the stems are chopped fine enough, they can be added to the dish at the end of cooking as a garnish, just like the rest of the leaf. However, most cooks don’t want to have to make sure that all the stems are finely chopped and discard them instead. However if you are trying to use your own parsley, you may wish to use as little of the plant at a time as possible and therefore use the stems as well -just make sure they are well chopped.

Just before flowering most herbs have their strongest taste and a little will go farther. However, except for medicinal herbs, where the dose must be precisely regulated and the plants should therefore be harvested only at the stage recommended, culinary herbs can be harvested just about any time as long as the plant is old and strong enough to be able to sustain a loss of part of itself. Just use less when the plants are grown in strong light or are more mature ie close to flowering.

For more tips on how to harvest plants check out our web-site at www.richters.com under the "Q&A" heading in the "News & Info" section of the site. Click on "Search Question & Answers" and type in"harvest", to find the topics that sound as if they would answer your question.

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