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.
Today, we’ll focus on how to harvest sweet basil since it’s 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, which Gardenuity happens to sell…
Incorporating these diverse basil varieties into your culinary creations can elevate the flavors and add a touch of authenticity to your dishes, whether you’re preparing Italian classics or exploring the vibrant world of international cuisine.
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. For all of the info you need on Basil, check out our Basil One Sheet or our how-to water guide to ensure you don’t underwater or overwater your 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 harvesting basil so you can enjoy your plants all season long!
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.
If your plants start to flower, you need to prune them.
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).
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 okay to cut up to ⅓ of the plant — either for harvesting or pruning. It will grow back!
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 flavor.
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!
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 them 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 a food dehydrator, lay leaves in a single layer on the rack and allow to dry until the machine stops.
If you need some inspiration on recipes to put your basil to good use, check out our blog on basil recipes!
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