Nothing tastes better than freshly harvested basil used to create homemade pestos or cocktails. Buying prepackaged or dried basil at your local store for culinary use is an option, but it rarely provides the same amount of flavor and nutrition that homegrown herbs do. In any case, the act of harvesting fresh produce offers its own sweet rewards.
By growing and harvesting basil in your own herb garden, you’re 100% guaranteed freshness, the satisfying “I grew that” feeling, and a sweeter taste to boot.
Here’s our complete guide to basil — including growing care and when and how to harvest basil.
Facts About Basil
- Basil is a member of the mint family and native to southern Asia and the islands of the South Pacific. There are over 20 basil varieties, each with a unique and interesting flavor and scent.
- Basil is famous for its aromatic scent. In scientific terms, this is due to the fragrant molecule called eugenol, which is responsible for basil’s spicy overtones reminiscent of cloves and cinnamon.
- The plant produces essential oils in its leaves, which vary in their composition. Depending on the basil species, the leaves may smell anise-like, with a pungent sweet scent.
- Many basil varieties produce scents that mirror their name: lemon basil, for example, presents a lemon fragrance. The various basils have different scents because each cultivar has a different amount of essential oils in its leaves.
Today, we’ll focus on how to harvest sweet basil since its the most popular variety to grow, but there is delicious merit in all the varieties. See a list of the most popular basil types below.
- Cinnamon Basil
- Bush Basil
- Thai Basil
- Holy Basil
- Lemon Basil
- Genovese Basil
- Purple Basil
Once you master how to harvest sweet basil, the other varieties are similarly harvested.
Basil Growing Needs
Basil loves warm weather and is good for tolerating hot weather. This herb needs well-drained and moist soil to stay healthy throughout the season. Water regularly.
Check out our how-to water guide to make sure you don’t underwater or overwater your basil.
Pruning and Harvesting Basil
The branching points and nodes at the leaves on your basil plant are made up of meristematic tissue. This tissue holds highly equipped cells that drive new growth. New stems, leaves, and basil flowers originate at these nodes.
When you prune basil, do so just above these nodes or branching points. If you prune midway down a stem, the opportunity for new growth is lost. Similarly, harvesting correctly will encourage new growth and good flavor.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to harvest basil so you can enjoy your plants all season long!
When to Harvest Basil
Harvest basil as soon as you feel satisfied with the size of the leaves. Then, whenever you need it (for a recipe or a décor piece), harvest away. In fact, regular harvests will increase the overall growth and production of the plant.
We especially encourage harvesting basil leaves in the morning. In the morning, basil leaves are at their juiciest and the essential oils are captured inside the leaves. If you’re not going to use them right away, put them in a glass of tepid water to keep them hydrated until use.
When to Prune Basil
If your plants start to flower, you need to prune.
When basil grows flower buds, it’s putting energy into making seeds. You want to keep its energy directed on growing vertically and continuing to produce harvests (rather than making seeds), so pinch those flowers off!
This will encourage your plant to grow more foliage (and therefore more fresh eats).
How To Harvest Basil
Look for the two largest leaves on your basil stem. Just below those, you should see another set of leaves or little nodes growing in between the smaller set of leaves. Cut the stem ¼” above the nodes.
Repeat this process on other stems.
Harvesting the lead stem of your basil plant sends a message to the smaller leaves that it is now time for them to grow into their own branches and produce their own harvests.
PRO TIP: For every five stems of leaves, begin at the second level of leaves and cut from there up.
It may feel odd to cut back your plant, but it’s ok to cut up to ⅓ of the plant — either for harvesting or pruning. It will grow back!
How to Keep Your Basil Harvest Fresh
After harvesting your basil, keep them in a glass of water. Refrigerating fresh basil can make the leaves slimy and, more importantly, cause them to lose some of their sweet
Keep your bouquet of basil out of direct sunlight and change the water every other day. Like this, your basil will stay fresh for a week or more. You may even see some roots begin to grow — you can replant these stems in your garden!
How to Dry Basil
If you have more basil than you know what to do with, you might want to try drying your basil harvests. Fully dried basil lasts up to a year in your pantry.
There are two methods to dry basil: the hanging method or by food dehydrator.
To hang dry your herbs, cut stems about 6 inches long and bundle together in small bunches. Punch holes in the paper bag and place around each bundle. Hang the basil in a dimly lit room with low humidity and a warm temperature.
To dry your basil via food dehydrator, lay leaves in a single layer on the rack and allow to dry until the machine stops.
Your Basil Harvest’s Health Benefits
Basil is rich in vitamin A, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, iron, potassium, and calcium. This healthy herb contains just 22 calories per 100 grams.
Additionally, basil has been noted as containing compounds that fight the effects of aging. This powerful antioxidant is full of polyphenolic flavonoids, which shield much of the body’s structures from cell-damaging free radicals.
As a good source of magnesium, basil also promotes blood flow. As a good source of Vitamin A, it promotes healthy eyesight. And because of eugenol, it has also been shown to be an effective anti-inflammatory.
But basil isn’t simply for internal use! When basil’s oils are extracted to make essential oil, it is often used for treating wounds, skin infections and can fight acne.
Overall, basil is a great option to supplementing your healthcare routine — you’ll be happy to have it around the house. Here are some great basil recipes that you can make to get the nutritional benefits of Basil.
If you have any questions about your unique basil plant or how to harvest basil, reach out to our Grow Pro Team for help.
Growing other herbs? Check out our complete guide to harvesting herbs.