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 muddle basil for cocktails, 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 to care for herb, 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.

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. Prune basil using 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 harvesting 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 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, which will stop the regrowth from occurring and can affect the flavor.

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

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.

Tips for storing basil

  • 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.
  • Make fresh basil leaf pesto
  • Try freezing basil – finely chop the basil leaves and freeze with water in an ice-cube tray to make basil cubes.

How to Harvest Basil: Step-by-Step Guide

Woman harvesting basil plant

How to Harvest Basil

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

A step-by-step guide to harvesting basil.

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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