How to Harvest Basil


Authored by Donna Ryan in Gardening 
Published on 10-06-2009

Used in Italian cooking, basil is best savored fresh. That’s why it’s so important to know how to harvest this plant. Fresh basil adds a wonderful piquancy to sauces as well as soups. Harvesting basil regularly also adds to its growth and consummate beauty.

Originating on the Asian continent, the herb is cultivated worldwide in twelve distinctive variations with the most common variety being sweet basil. The herb’s leaves are used in cooking as an added flavoring. In Italian cooking, the herb is combined with garlic sauce and olive oil to make pesto. It is also widely used in Asian cuisine. The plant is well-suited to warm climates and will produce a harvest until its flowers bloom and turn to seed. While known as a perennial in balmy climates, basil is propagated in colder climates as an annual and therefore must be replanted each growing season.

Interestingly, the key to growing basil is in how you harvest the plant. If you add basil quite a bit to your cooking, harvesting should reap you many benefits as far as use and growth. Prune the plant properly and you can enjoy your harvest in soups, salads and sandwiches on a daily basis.

However, wait until your plant has about 4 sets of leaves before pruning it if you want your plant to continue to thrive for an extended span of time. Initially snip the plant closely above the second set of leaves. You should make a practice of pruning the plant about every 20 or so days if you want to see the plant increase. If you prune in the aforementioned way, you’ll harvest around 25 or more cuts of basil each growing season.

Alternatively, you can harvest basil more often by pruning the first set of leaves. The plant will not grow as profusely if you do it this way but you won’t have to harvest quite as much basil either. This will help in producing less waste.

Timing is important too when harvesting basil. You can obtain prolific results if you choose the morning hours just after the dew has lifted from the ground and before the sun grows more intense. In the morning, the essential oils in the plant are the most potent and flavorful. Just remember, on the evening before you harvest the plant spray the leaves with water to remove any dust and pollutants.

If you want to harvest basil for storage, first dry the herb and gather it into bundles to dry. Another way to dry the herb is to kiln it in the oven for a short while. Once your basil harvest is dried, you can stow it in the refrigerator if you’re going to be using it for only an abbreviated time. Otherwise store your harvest in the freezer.

Your basil harvest will be complete, as previously mentioned, when the plant is in bloom. You can perhaps extend the growing life a little more by picking the buds off the plant before it effloresces but you’ll be despoiling basil’s natural beauty. By allowing the plant to blossom, you can enjoy the aesthetics created by the herb while you likewise appreciate the “fruits” of your labor.


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