Whether it’s fresh from the garden or in a flower pot on the counter, the taste and scent of basil are always warm and welcoming. However, keeping your plant looking healthy can be a challenge when you’re always picking at its leaves. Here’s how to harvest basil and still leave your plant healthy and productive.
If you’re new to the world of growing basil, you might not be too sure if you know how to harvest basil the right way to get the most out of this flavorful culinary herb. You may tend to feel like you’re kind of injuring your plant a little each time you harvest a few amazingly aromatic leaves from the stalks of your plant for making pesto or maybe a delicious Caprese salad. You may only decide to harvest sparingly and try to let your plant grow as big, tall, and strong as possible for as long as possible, only to find that it eventually shoots off flowers and dies or just fizzles out and shrivels up. What’s up with that?
Well, the truth is that basil plants actually do better the more that you harvest their foliage. So trimming and pinching off a few or many leaves here and there will only reward you with more and more and will keep your plant healthy and thriving as well. It’s true of many edible perennial herbs, and it’s true when you grow basil as well: Keeping your basil well pruned will result in a happier plant and a more robust harvest for you.
Don’t just go plucking the leaves willy-nilly, though! Let me show you just how to do your little basil harvest so you get the best results. Despite what your past experience may have made you believe, you don’t have to be an expert gardener to get excellent results.
How to Harvest Basil
OK, so start off with a healthy, bushy basil plant that really looks like it’s just dying to be eaten.
It’s a thing of beauty. I just can’t get enough fresh basil in my life, especially during the summer months. I was in the mood for that fresh garden flavor the other day, but unfortunately, our garden is nowhere near ready for harvesting at the moment, so I grabbed this little plant from the produce section of my grocery store. It’s been quite happy with lots of sunlight next to my kitchen window!
The key with basil plants is that you want to encourage them to be low and bushy rather than tall and spindly, but they have a tendency to get tall and spindly if you just leave them to grow without any kind of pruning or harvesting.
Get to Know Your Plant
You can see my plant had a few shoots that were growing straight up and getting pretty skinny and lacking in the leaf department.
When you see your plant looking like this, you want to start harvesting from the top down rather than just plucking the biggest leaves from around the perimeter of the plant. Just go ahead and harvest a whole basil branch at a time, stem and all. Just make sure you leave a couple of inches of steam at the bottom of the plant and always snip the stem about a 1/4 inch above a node, which is the place where a set of leaves or stems meet up with the main stem.
Once you’ve done all your stem-snipping, go ahead and pinch off any really big leaves that are remaining on the plant, those are ready to eat too!
Here’s how my plant looked after I was done harvesting.
You can see that a good 2/3 of the bulk of the plant is gone, but there are still plenty of little baby leaves left to grow. Give your plant a good drink of water at this point, and let it get back to growing!
Let it Grow
It’s only been a few days since my harvest, but already I can see the new leaves growing quite a bit and really enjoying all the extra energy they have available to them now that all of the bigger leaves are gone. Within a couple of weeks, I’ll be ready for another big basil harvest!
So that’s all it takes to be able to enjoy fresh basil off of a single plant all year long. Now you can feel confident you know how to harvest basil and still have a healthy, productive plant.
Do you have any clever basil-growing tips that I need to know about now that we’re in peak summer basil season?
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.