Years ago an old farmer told my young boys that when they started dating, a big bunch of sweet basil in the car would win a girl’s heart. Now, I don’t know about that, but growing and harvesting basil is one of my favorite summer garden activities. The fragrance definitely makes me happy!
Sweet basil is a culinary herb used frequently in Italian cooking and is the base for our favorite pesto. It’s not the only type of basil, though. There are dozens of different cultivars to choose from. Some are purple, some are ruffled, and some, like Thai basil, are favored for specific cuisines.
Basil is one of those wonderful garden plants that just keeps on giving. Unlike radishes and beets that are done once you harvest them, basil plants provide their pungent goodness for months if you treat them right. Harvesting basil so that it produces all summer long is easy.
Basil likes warm weather, heat, and well-drained soil. Direct sow seeds after frost, once the ground has warmed. Trust me; trying to get a jump on it by planting too soon will just waste seeds. If you opt to start seedlings for transplanting, a heat mat to increase the soil temperature will greatly improve your odds. Water deeply and regularly, and side dress with compost or well aged manure.
Harvest basil regularly. To do so, simply use scissors to prune off the upper leaf clusters. Make your cut close to the set of leaves below. Often, you’ll need to cut more than one leaf cluster, and that’s okay. Just be sure to snip right above the set of leaves you’re planning to leave on the plant. New growth will sprout from that point so you can continue to harvest throughout the season.
You’ll 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. Harvest basil every week or two. 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.
Regular harvesting inhibits flower production and so the plant will continue to produce leaves. If the plant is allowed to flower, it will put energy into trying to regenerate itself by making seeds. If you see flower heads beginning to form, pinch them off.
These rules for harvesting basil apply for growing basil indoors, too, though an indoor basil plant might not need to be trimmed as frequently.
Besides girls and pesto and Italian food, here’s another reason to grow basil: Bees.
Bees love basil
While we humans love growing basil for its pungent leaves, the bees love it for the flowers. Trouble is, in order to maintain a continuous harvest of sweet basil leaves all summer long, the flower heads need to be removed. Allowed to flower, the plants will go to seed and stop producing those fresh lovely leaves.
Luckily, there’s an easy solution. Plant several extra basil plants. Once you’ve harvested the first batch of leaves, allow a few plants to go into flowering mode. The bees will appreciate it, and you can continue harvesting leaves from the plants you’ve designated as “yours.”
Saving basil seeds
I’ve had good success with saving and replanting basil seeds. If you want to gather seeds, choose one basil plant as your seed producer. Let it flower and watch as those flower heads turn to seeds. Allow the seed to brown on the plant. If wet weather threatens, you’ll want to clip them and bring them inside to dry. Pull the dry seed pods from the stem. Roll dry pods around in the palm of your hand to remove the small black seeds.
I use fresh basil all summer long snipped into in salads, wraps, sandwiches, and for flavoring soups and pasta. By far, though, our favorite way to use it is to make pesto. We spread pesto as a base for wraps, on egg salad sandwiches, and of course, in pasta dishes. I freeze pesto in small glass jars for use all through the winter months. I love adding spoonfuls of it to soup! My pesto recipe is here.
20+ Ways to Use Basil (that are NOT pesto)
- DIY Herb Saute Cubes [Preparedness Mama]
- Preserving the Harvest [Schneiderpeeps]
- Basil Garlic Aioli [Self Proclaimed Foodie]
- Roasted Tomato Basil Soup [Cooking Classy]
- Basil Chimichurri [Go Go Go Gourmet]
- Three Ways to Preserve Your Harvest [Preparedness Mama]
- Peach Basil Salsa [Homestead Honey]
- Orange Basil Dressing [Green Healthy Cooking]
- Basil Oil [Real Food Real Deals]
- Basil Ice Cream [A Beautiful Plate]
- Basil Cheesecake [Food Network]
- Strawberry Basil Bruschetta [Jo Cooks]
- Basil Butter [My Recipe Magic]
- Strawberry Basil Moscow Mule [Marla Maridith]
- Basil Salt [The Rising Spoon]
- Blueberry Basil Tart [Baking Part Time]
- Fontina & Blackberry Basil Grilled Cheese [How Sweet it is]
- Lemon Basil Mojito [Cookie and Kate]
- White Bean Artichoke Basil Toasts [Pinch of Yum]
- Caprese Quinoa Salad [Simply Quinoa]
- Parmesan Basil and Lemon Wafer [Food Network]
- Herbed Sel Gris [Joybilee Farm]