How to Harvest Basil

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How to harvest basil to promote growth and prevent damaging the plant. Basil is actually very easy to harvest in a way that promotes growth, keeps the plant healthy, and discourages it from flowering.

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Woman harvesting basil plant
How to harvest basil

Whether you like to add it to salads, add fresh leaves to soups, or use it to make pesto, home-grown basil is a wonderful fresh herb to have available.

Growing basil (Ocimum basilicum) at home is easy – it is generally a very easy herb to care for, whether you grow your basil indoors or in your garden.

However, to ensure that it continues to thrive, there are a few steps you should take when harvesting basil leaves, to promote growth and ensure that you don’t damage the plant.

>> Related post: How to harvest basil seed

Harvesting basil without killing the plant

There are two basic ways to harvest basil:

  1. If you just want a basil leaf or two for your recipe, then it is fine to pinch what you need off from the top of the plant.
  2. If you want to harvest a larger amount then the approach you take is important for the long-term health of the plant. You should harvest the stems from the top down.

Always leave at least 1 leaf pair at the bottom of a stem when harvesting as this will allow the stem to keep growing after harvesting.

If pruning basil, use the same approach.

How to harvest basil to promote growth

If basil isn’t cut regularly or correctly, it can start to grow tall and ‘leggy’. You will notice the space between the leaves on the branches increasing, and the plant gets too tall to support itself.

If this starts to happen then trimming some of the leaves and part of the stems is an excellent way to encourage it to grow more densely and put out new shoots.

Harvest basil leaves from the top down, cutting off up to half of the total stem length. You should make a cut right above a leaf pair, do not leave a bare section of stem at the top.

This will prompt new growth, and keep the form of the plant more dense and compact with branching stems and leaves close together, rather than long leggy branches with few leaves.

As a bonus, regular harvesting of the tips of the stems discourages the basil plant from flowering.

Once flower buds appear regrowth will stop, and the plant will begin to lose its flavor.

>> Related post: What to do with basil flowers

Basil plants showing that cuts should be made directly above a leaf-pair.
Pruning basil to promote growth

Harvesting basil at the end of the season

Basil is an annual plant, meaning it needs to be regrown each year.

In some warmer climates a basil plant may last for two years, but not beyond that. Even if you are keeping it indoors to avoid the cold winter weather.

At the end of the growing season, or right at the beginning of fall, cut basil back, harvesting the entire stem.

Tips for storing basil

  • Store fresh basil leaves in the refrigerator for up to a month, either standing in water, or between two damp paper towels. Refresh the water as needed.
  • Dry basil – give the leaves a quick wash to remove any dust, then pat them dry. Spread them out between two sheets of parchment and leave them in a warm dry place until they are bone dry. Store in an air tight container in a cool place.
    >> See How to dry basil for more details and how to store dried herbs for tips on storing dried basil.
  • Make fresh basil leaf pesto
  • Try freezing basil – finely chop the basil leaves and freeze with water or olive in an ice-cube tray to make basil cubes. Then simply pop out a frozen basil cube when you want to use some in your recipe.

FAQ & Tips

How do you harvest basil so it grows back?

Basil should be harvested from the top of the stem down. Remove the top of the stem with as many leaves on as you want, but ensure you leave at least one leaf pair at the base of the stem. You should make a cut right above a leaf pair, do not leave a bare section of stem at the top.

How do you know when basil is ready to pick?

Basil will be ready to pick and use around 8 weeks after planting the seeds. Each stem should have around 8 pairs of good-sized leaves.

How do you harvest basil without killing the plant?

Harvesting basil leaves from the top of each stem will ensure that it can regrow after harvesting. You can remove up to half the height of the basil plant, but be sure to leave at least one pair of leaves at the base of the stem. This will encourage the basil plant to sprout new branches and increase its vigor.

Will basil regrow after cutting?

Yes, in fact regular cutting of basil will help to keep the plant healthy over the long term.

Can I let my basil flower?

When basil flowers, the flavor of the leaves begins to decline and the plant grows more slowly as the energy of the plant is going into flowering. You can let it flower and still eat the leaves, but just be aware that the flavor will start to fade as the plant’s energy is going into producing flowers. If you are cultivating the plant for the leaves it is best to remove the flower buds as they appear.

Should I pick basil from the top or the bottom?

Always pick basil from the top. This technique removes the growth tip and encourages the plant to become more bushy and dense.

How to Harvest Basil: Step-by-Step Guide

How to Harvest Basil

Woman harvesting basil plant

A step-by-step guide to harvesting basil.

Active Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Difficulty Easy
Estimated Cost free

Materials

  • A basil plant

Tools

  • Sharp scissors or secateurs

Instructions

  1. Inspect your basil plant to find a long stem.
  2. Cut the stem between a third and halfway down, just above a leaf pair using sharp scissors or secateurs to make a good clean cut.
  3. If you are harvesting the basil for leaves to use, continue until you have sufficient basil, or until you have cut the top section off every stem on the plant.
  4. If you are harvesting basil to improve the condition of your plant, continue to prune until you have cut all the long leggy stems back.
  5. Place the basil plant in a sunny location and keep watered to ensure it will regrow.

Notes

  1. If you have harvested a large amount of basil and you don't want to use it right away, store it in the fridge or stand the stems in a glass of water.



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