Harvesting Basil

Basil is one of those wonderful garden plants that just keeps coming. Unlike radishes and beets that are done once you harvest them, basil plants provide their pungent goodness for months if you can stay on top of them. Basil should be harvested regularly to prevent flowering. To do so, simply use scissors to trim off the upper leaf clusters, making your cut close to the set of leaves below. New growth will sprout from this point so you can continue to harvest throughout the season.

Here’s a basil plant ready for harvesting. The flower buds are just starting to form:

This is what a plant looks like after the harvest:

You want to make sure to leave some green growth so that the plant can do its photosynthesis thing, but the plant will be noticeably smaller.

Healthy basil plants will need to be harvested every week or so. I have almost a dozen plants and these provide enough basil every time I harvest to make two batches of pesto – one to eat fresh, one for the freezer.

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  • I’m jealous. My basil plants are barely half an inch tall.

  • Betsy Lane ,

    I also make pesto for the freezer–it keeps perfectly all year, until the next year’s basil is ready. I also make cilantro pesto, just substituting cilantro leaves for basil leaves. Both versions are delicious!!!

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      My husband would love cilantro pesto.

    • Bryan P ,

      Love cilantro pesto. Don’t forget garlic scape pesto, too.

  • Liana ,

    I have the hardest time growing basil though I see it growing like a weed elsewhere. Too high and wet?

    • Vickie ,

      My daughter grows amazing basil plants in a pot and usually it gets ignored because she has a 2 and 3 year old. Oh and the 2 year old is rough on that plant and it is just thriving away and huge! I have mine in the ground and most of the time, if it doesn’t get rain it won’t get water unless I happen to think about it and it is huge. For me I think they are like geraniums they like to be ignored, left alone and a minimum of water. Can’t be ignored forever of course but many herbs will grow in poor soil and in the hottest sun with a minimum of water.

      • Kris Bordessa ,

        They do seem to do well in hot, harsh conditions!

  • My basil is pretty puny still, but I am taking several leaf clusters each night to put in our fresh salads.

  • I should really make pesto. I love love love basil, but mostly just because I love the lovely aroma.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Pesto = super easy.

  • Wow, your basil looks so healthy and fresh; mine’s a tad wilted in the heat! My favorite thing is a caprese salad with tomatoes and fresh mozzarella — as soon as my tomatoes fruit I’ll be eating it all summer long!

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      Heat is not something we’ve had to deal with yet this summer!

  • sarah henry ,

    I’m with Melanie, above, love basil in a Caprese salad and we’re big fans of putting pesto on everything over here: pasta, potatoes, bread.

    Just had some Thai basil fried in a rice bowl dish that was divine.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      My son came in the other day with pesto, kalamata olives, and feta on toast. Good taste, that boy.

  • Basil has to be my favorite herb. I love all of the different varieties too–Thai, purple.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      We once stopped at a farm stand and the old guy there suggested that when my boys got to dating age they only had to remember to tuck a bouquet of basil in the back seat and their dates would fall in love. 😉

  • My basil seems to go from barely sprouted to bolting. SO FRUSTRATING. I’m trying a different varietal this year-lettuce leaf basil. I’m hoping I’ll have better luck with it. It’s supposed to be great for pesto.

  • I made my first batch of pesto using these tips on how to harvest basil.  Great tips, less than a week later my pesto is as bountiful as before I made the cut!

    I put a twist on the original pesto recipe.

    You can find my Basil Pesto with Lemon Thyme recipe here:

  • Kathy ,

    Thats absolutely one way to go about it! I tend to find that successive planting works better for me – Id much rather have a little bit all the time than huge dumps of basil that I then HAVE to make pesto out of. Ive got this great infographic on successive planting here: http://bit.ly/SSHdYv Happy Growing!

  • Yaya ,

    I love to take a couple basil leaves, roll them and take my kitchen shears and cut thin strips and then put them in a salad or on a sandwich. It just takes it up a notch. 

  • Janet ,

    I live in Utah. It’s hot and dry. Tried growing basil in the ground, in pots and in the house. It either goes to seed and/or the leaves get skinny and sparse. Does it like hot, sun, cool, shade? Where are you growing it? If I try again, I will follow your pruning suggestions.

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      I find that it likes warm/hot summers but steady moisture. Most all of my basil these days come as volunteers from plants I’ve let go to seed. I’m growing in Hawaii, but it’s done really well for me in hot northern California summers, too.

  • Allison ,

     Hi! Im fairly new to gardening and i found your article helpful. Im just wondering why do you want to harvest your basil before it starts flowering? Or what happens if it flowers ? 

    • Kris Bordessa ,

      You use basil for its leaves. When it starts to flower, the plant puts less energy into making leaves. The bees like the flowers, though.

  • victor ,

    i usually freeze most of mine since it lasts so long in the freezer — i’ve heard a year though it never lasts in my house.

  • Paula ,

    For the area below where you pinch off – do you ever harvest that too? Or just leave it? Harvest single leaves? Thanks

    • Mary ,

      I just cut it right above any two leaves and you don’t take those. Enjoy!

  • Elicia ,

    I have several beautiful basil plants growing. My family loves pesto but I’ve never made it. Does anyone have a good pesto recipe or a link to a good recipe? Thanks :0)

  • mary ,

    I have basil growing in a glass jar on the window sill, just add water daily. I also like adding lots of it to salmon pasta salad.

  • Loriel ,

    What happens if your basil flowers?

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