A Step-by-Step Guide to Saving Herb Seeds

Saving herb seeds is fun and easy, and it can save you a lot of money. Follow this step-by-step guide to harvest and store herb seeds from your garden.

by Jessica Walliser
PHOTO: Jessica Walliser

Herbs are popular crops on hobby farms. Not only are they great additions to your farm market stand, but if left to flower, many herbs are also very attractive to pollinators and the beneficial insects that help manage common farm pests. To top it off, herb plants are beautiful, too. Saving herb seeds is a great way to ensure you’ll have a hearty herb crop each and every season. Here’s the technique I use to save seeds from herbs in my garden.

Which Herb Seeds Are Easiest to Save?

Before saving herb seeds from any plant, you need to know a little more about that particular herb. For example, though you can save seeds from perennial herb varieties, those seeds are a bit more challenging to grow into new plants. Perennial herbs, such chives, oregano, thyme, lavender and the like, take more time to germinate and grow to a harvestable size than annual herbs do. If you’re willing to be patient and do some research before sowing the saved seeds, you certainly can save and grow seeds from perennial herbs. However, it’s much easier to focus your seed-saving efforts, at least in the beginning, on annual herbs that are fast-growing and super simple to germinate and grow.

Instructions for Saving Herb Seeds

Step 1: Determine Whether the Seeds Will Come True

If an herb you’re growing is a hybrid variety, it might not be the best bet to save seeds from that plant. It’s not that you can’t save them, it’s just that the plants you grow from those saved seeds will probably not be the same as the parent plant from the year before. Seedlings grown from seeds collected from hybrid plants often revert back to one of the original grandparent’s genetics and their flavor and production might not be adequate. Though many common herb varieties are not hybrids, some are. Check the seed packet or plant tag to see if it’s a hybrid variety. The most common hybridized herbs are basil, some dills, certain cilantros and a few parsleys.

Step 2: Let the Plant Flower

Though you’ll want to make plenty of herbal harvests earlier in the season, if you’re saving herb seeds, you’ll want to stop making foliage harvests in late summer. This gives the plant plenty of time to produce flowers and, eventually, seeds. Making frequent foliage harvests earlier in the season improves the branching structure of the plant and can lead to the production of even more flowers, which for seed saving is a very good thing.

Step 3: Let the Flowers Mature

In order for the seeds to fully develop, the flower needs to remain on the plant until the seeds are nearly dry. It takes a bit of practice to find the “sweet spot” for harvesting the seeds from each different herb. If you don’t wait long enough, the seeds might be too green and not mature enough to be viable. But if you wait too long, the seeds might fully dry and drop to the ground before you can collect them. I always err on the side of caution and pick the seed heads when they’re still a little green. Then, I let them fully mature in a protected place (see step 4) so I don’t loose any seeds in the process.

Step 4: Let the Seeds Fully Dry

This is the next important step in saving herb seeds. After cutting off the mature flower head, place it in a warm, dry location on a paper towel or on a sheet of newspaper or craft paper. Let the seed head sit there for a few weeks, until the flower head cracks open and the seeds easily drop out when the plant is shaken or crumbled between your fingers. Once the seeds are separated from the flower head debris, spread them out on a new sheet of newspaper and let them dry for another week or two.

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Step 5: Store Your Seeds

The final step in saving herb seeds is to store them properly. I like to package my herb seeds in sealed and labeled envelopes and then put the envelops in a screw-top jar or lidded plastic storage container. Put the storage vessel in a cool, dry, dark location. Some folks keep their seed storage bins in an extra fridge, but I just keep mine in the basement, right next to the dehumidifier. The properly prepared and stored seeds of most herbs will last for a few seasons without worry.

Come spring planting time, your herb seeds will be ready for planting. You can use this technique to save seeds from many different annual (and biennial) herbs, including dill, fennel, caraway, cilantro, basil, borage, parsley, sweet marjoram, chervil, chamomile, calendula and others.

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