The culinary herb basil (Ocimum basilicum) is easy to grow indoors or out. But what do you do when your homegrown basil starts to flower? Should it be allowed to flower, or should you pinch the blooms off? And if you do that, what can you do with the basil flowers?
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What to do when your basil plant is flowering
Growing basil at home is easy, as it is a very low-maintenance as long as you give it a lot of sunlight and enough water. Healthy homegrown basil will produce lots of leaves throughout the growing season, but when the growing season is over, the plant will flower.
When that happens, you can either pinch the heads off as soon as they appear to prolong the growing season, or you can let them grow to complete the plants growth cycle and provide benefits to your garden.
Either way the flowers can be put to good use. Read on for some ideas on what to do with basil flowers.
Some popular varieties of basil:
- sweet basil (aka genovese basil)
- Thai basil (aka cinnamon basil)
- holy basil (aka tulsi)
- lemon basil
- purple basil
Why is my basil flowering?
When your homegrown basil plant starts flowering it means that it is changing from growth mode to reproduction mode. This means that the plants energy is going into flowering rather than growing leaves, and so once basil blooms the leaves start to lose their flavor do not grow back as vigorously when harvested.
Basil flowering signals that the plant has reached the end of its growing season. Whether it survives to the next season depends on the climate that you live in. If you are in an area that has frosts in winter then it is unlikely to survive and will need to be replanted next spring.
If you allow flowering to complete you can collect the basil seeds for replanting, or it may reseed itself.
If you live in a sub-tropical or tropical climate then it can grow as a perennial, and survive for two or more growing cycles, but will not start to regrow until after flowering has completed.
How to keep basil from flowering?
Because the flavor of the basil leaf is affected after the plant starts to bloom, many people want to prevent their basil plant from flowering.
To prevent your basil plant from flowering, simply keep an eye out for the appearance of basil flower buds, and remove them at the first sign.
This will encourage lusher leaf growth to continue, often allowing you to get another harvest of leaves before the flavor starts to reduce.
What to do with Basil flowers?
Basil flowers are edible, and can be used anywhere you might use fresh basil leaves.
However, a word of caution: fresh basil flowers often have a bitter flavor compared to the fresh herb, so it is best to sample them before serving them up to your family!
Here are some ideas to try:
- Add flower heads to a salad of tomato, basil leaves and mozzarella
- Chop them and add to a bowl of fresh pasta
- Scatter them over a tossed green salad for a colorful garnish
- Make basil flower pesto with pine nuts and parmesan cheese
Make Basil Flower Infused Vinegar
A great way to use the essential oils from basil flowers is to make basil flower vinegar – this is easy to make by infusing the flowers in white vinegar. Similarly, you can infuse them in olive oil to make basil flower oil. Both are great for salad dressings and marinades.
See this article for more details: How to make basil flower vinegar.
Try brewing basil flower tea
To make basil tea, add flowers to a teapot or cup, and pour on boiling water (actually water just off the boil is the best temperature). Allow the tea to steep for 3-4 minutes, then strain to remove the flowers before drinking.
You can also make a mixed herb tea using lavender, lemon balm and/or mint along with the basil flowers.
Leave them to flower
If basil is left to flower it will produce attractive purple or white flowers, which smell wonderful and will attract pollinating insects such as bees to your garden.
If you allow the flowers to mature on the plant you can collect the basil seed, as long as the flowers get pollinated. This will allow you to replant it in the spring – essential if you live in an area where it grows as an annual.
You may want to harvest the basil leaves as they start to lose their flavor once flowering begins. You can either dry them for storage, or make a big batch of fresh basil pesto.
Cut and keep them
Basil flowers are attractive, and if you are going to cut them off the plant to encourage further growth of leaves you can keep and display them. Either with a little water in a bud vase or use dried basil flowers to make potpourri.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes you can! Fresh basil flowers are edible and can be used just as you’d use basil leaves, for example in salads or as a garnish. They are great with tomatoes and can be used in sauces and salsas.
You can still use basil leaves after the plant has flowered, but you may find that the flavor is reduced.
No, basil will survive after flowering, however it is likely it will die as the temperatures drop during autumn and winter. Basil is an annual herb in all but the warmest climates.
A new basil plant won’t grow from a flower head cuttings (it needs leaves to grow).
Do you have any other questions about flowering basil, or other uses for basil flowers that I have missed? Leave them in the comments below…
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