Basil seeds from plants

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Basil Seed Collecting: Tips For Harvesting Basil Seeds

You know it’s summer when fresh, ripe tomato and basil salad graces your dinner table. Basil is one of the warm season herbs that have a distinctive scent and flavor. Harvesting basil seeds from a favorite variety will ensure you get that same taste and cultivar.

Saving basil seed is an easy, economical way to grow basil year after year. Read on for some tips on how to harvest basil seeds and ways for saving basil seed.

How to Harvest Basil Seeds

Basil plants are pollinated by small flying insects. The different varieties will cross pollinate, so it is important to isolate a favorite cultivar by at least 150 feet. This will prevent another variety from polluting your strain.

The seeds are contained in the spent flower head. Use a fine colander for basil seed collecting, as the black seeds are very tiny. Cut off the brown and spent flower heads and let them dry for a few days in a warm, dry location. Crush the heads over the colander and pick out the old petals and any chaff. Basil seed collecting is that simple.

You can also put the dried seed heads into a paper bag and shake it, then crush the bag with a rolling pin, tip the pulverized plant material into a shallow tray and blow out the chaff. You now have home-harvested basil seed which will be of the parent plant’s strain, provided they didn’t cross pollinate.

How Long Do Basil Seeds Keep?

Once you have the seeds, you need to store them properly. But how long do basil seeds keep? If they are properly stored, basil seeds are viable for up to five years. Label and date your seeds and rotate them so the oldest are used up first. Seeds that are completely dry and kept in a dry, dark location should be viable for years after basil seed collecting.

Storing Basil Seed

Place the dried seeds in a plastic bag or glass jar with a sealable lid. Put the bag or jar in the freezer for a couple of days to kill any insect pests that may be still in the plant material. Ensure there is no air in the container and store the seed in a cool, dark place. Seed viability will be affected if the seeds are exposed to more than minimal light.

Label and catalogue your varieties and get ready for a bumper crop of basil. Sow the seed in flats in early spring with just a dusting of potting soil over the tiny seeds. Keep moderately moist and transplant after the first two sets of true leaves appear.

Harvesting basil seeds is a quick way to preserve the delicate flavors of the herb and ensure there is a plentiful supply of pesto.

Growing basil from seed is pretty easy to do, especially when you know all of the secrets for success! In this post, I’m going to show you everything you need to know about how to grow basil seeds, step by step.

Basil is one of my favorite herbs, and I grow several varieties in my garden every year. It might seem like it would be hard to grow from seed, but it’s actually pretty darn easy!

This is a complete guide to growing basil from seed, and it covers everything from start to finish! Including the best method to use and when to start.

Plus you’ll find step-by-step planting instructions, expected germination time, seedling identification and care, transplanting to your garden, fixing common problems, faqs, and more!

Here’s what you’ll find in this detailed guide for growing basil seeds…

  • Types Of Basil Seeds To Grow
  • What Do The Seeds Look Like?
  • Recommended Seed Starting Methods
  • Planting Basil Seeds
    • When To Plant
    • Preparing For Planting
    • How To Plant: Step-By-Step
  • Germination Time
  • What Do The Seedlings Look Like?
  • Basil Seedling Care Tips
    • Light
    • Water
    • Fertilizer
    • Air Circulation
    • Thinning
    • Repotting
  • Transplanting The Seedlings Into Your Garden
    • When To Transplant
    • Hardening Off
    • Where To Plant
    • Spacing
    • Planting Depth
  • How Long From Seed To Harvest
  • Troubleshooting Common Problems
  • FAQs
    • Should I soak basil seeds before planting?
    • How deep do you plant basil seeds?
    • How long does it take to grow from seed?
    • How many basil seeds should I plant per hole?
    • Do basil seeds need light to germinate?
    • How can I speed up basil seed germination?

Growing Basil From Seed

The best part is that, once you learn how to grow the seeds, you’ll be able to start any variety you want! The steps outlined in this guide work for all types of basil seeds.

Types Of Basil Seeds To Grow

It’s easy to grow basil from seed, and there are lots of varieties to choose from. Some of my personal favorites are Genovese, lemon basil, Italian large leaf, Thai basil, and purple leaf.

The color and flavor may vary between the different varieties, but the seed planting instructions are the same for all!

Different types of basil seed packets

What Do Basil Seeds Look Like?

Basil seeds are pretty small, but not super tiny. They are oval shaped, hard but very lightweight, and can range in color from dark brown to black.

Basil seeds in my hand

Recommended Basil Seed Starting Methods

People who live in a warm climate can plant basil seeds directly into their garden in early spring. But, the seeds need warm soil in order to germinate.

So, if you live in a cold climate like I do, it’s best to start them indoors, rather than direct seeding outdoors or winter sowing them.

When To Plant Basil Seeds

You should plan to start them indoors 6-8 weeks before your average last frost date. The exact timing will depend on where you live.

Here in zone 4b, our average last frost date is May 15th. So, I start basil seeds indoors sometime in late March.

If you live in a warm climate, you can plant them outdoors in your garden 1-2 weeks after last frost, when the soil temperature is warm.

Planting Basil Seeds

While it’s true that it’s pretty easy to grow basil from seed, there are a few steps you can take to ensure your seeds will germinate.

In this section, I’ll talk about how to prepare the seeds, and then show you how to plant them step-by-step.

Preparing For Planting

You don’t need to do anything special to prepare basil seeds for planting. But soaking them in warm water overnight will give them a good head start, and help to speed up germination.

How To Plant Basil Seeds Step-By-Step

The good news is that you don’t need any fancy equipment to grow basil from seed. If you’ve ever done any seed starting before, then you probably already have everything you need on hand.

Supplies Needed:

  • Seedling flat with a lid
  • Pre-moistened seed starting soil or peat pellets
  • Seeds
  • Water
  • Heat mat (optional)

Step 1: Fill the trays with soil – Start by filling the planting cells to the top with seed starting medium. Or you can use seed pellets in your trays, if you prefer.

Step 2: Figure out how many seeds to plant – If you’re using old seeds with a low germination rate, then you should plant 2-3 seeds per hole. Otherwise, if your seeds are fresh, then you can plant one seed per cell/pellet.

Sowing basil seeds indoors

Step 3: Plant the seeds – Since they are so tiny, I find it easier to place the seeds on top of the dirt, and gently work them into the soil. But if you prefer, you can make a shallow hole, and the drop them in.

Step 4: Cover the seeds with soil – If you laid the seeds on top of the dirt, then gently press them down, or use your finger to work them into the soil. Basil seeds are tiny, and should only be planted 1/4″ deep.

Step 5: Add water to the seed trays – Since the seeds are so tiny, don’t try to water your flats by pouring it over the top. Doing that will likely displace the seeds. Instead, pour water into the tray, and allow the soil to soak it up from the bottom. Dump out any water that hasn’t been absorbed after 20 minutes.

Step 6: Cover the trays with plastic – Cover the seedling tray with the plastic lid to keep the soil moist and warm during germination.

Covered tray after planting basil seeds

Basil Germination Time

In the right conditions, basil seeds germinate pretty quickly. On average, germination takes about 5-10 days. But sometimes they can be much slower.

If yours seem to be taking forever, then it’s probably too cold for them. They need warm soil to germinate, so be sure to use a seedling heat mat to speed things up.

What Does Basil Look Like When It Sprouts?

The first two leaves that grow are called the “seed leaves” (aka: cotyledons). Those look like two half circles on either side of the stem. All of the leaves that grow after the first two are called the “true leaves”.

The true leaves look like tiny baby basil leaves (they’re so cute!). They usually start to grow within a few days after the seed leaves have opened.

Baby basil seedlings germinating

Basil Seedling Care Tips

When you first start to see the seedlings emerging from the soil, it’s very exciting!! But soon after you may think… uh oh, now what!?!

Yep, growing basil from seed indoors is one thing, but keeping the seedlings alive can be a whole different ballgame. Well, I’ve got you covered!

Below you’ll find detailed basil seedling care tips. You can read all about general seedling care here if you want even more details.

Light

Basil seedlings growing indoors need a lot of light to keep them from getting too tall and leggy. As soon as the first seed has sprouted, position your grow light a few inches above the tray.

If you’re a DIYer, you can make your own grow lights using an inexpensive fluorescent light fixture and plant grow light bulbs.

Keep the light 1-2 inches above the seedlings at all times. Leave it on for 14-16 hours a day, and adjust the height of the light as the seedlings get taller.

Use an inexpensive outlet timer to make it easy to give your basil seedlings the perfect amount of light.

Related Post: A Beginner’s Guide To Grow Lights For Seedlings

Water

Basil seedlings need consistently moist soil in order to grow their best. So always keep the soil damp, and never allow it to dry out completely.

They don’t like to be sitting in soggy soil though, so make sure you don’t overwater them. To protect the delicate seedlings, and help prevent mold growth, water the trays from the bottom rather than over the top.

Fertilizer

Once the true leaves start to grow, you can begin feeding basil seedlings with a weak dose of liquid fertilizer. Then slowly increase it to full strength as they get larger.

Be sure to use organic fertilizers though, because chemicals can damage the tiny seedlings. I use an organic compost solution, or brew my own with compost tea bags. Or you could use a plant start fertilizer that is specially made for seedlings.

Once they’re outside, I switch to fish emulsion, which seedlings absolutely love. But it can be a bit stinky, so that’s why I wait until they’re outside to use it.

Seed tray full of basil seedlings

Air Circulation

Once most of the seeds in a tray have germinated, then it’s time to give them some fresh air. This will prevent mold growth, and also help to strengthen the seedlings.

Remove the lid, and then run an oscillating fan set on low over them. Start by doing this for a little while every day, and gradually add more time until you finally plug the fan into the same timer your lights are running on.

Just be aware that once the lids are off, the soil will dry out much faster. So check the moisture level at least once per day to make sure it’s not getting too dry.

Thinning

If you planted more than one basil seed per hole, cell or pellet, then you’ll need to thin them out. Once they have grown to be a few inches tall, choose the strongest looking one, and thin the rest.

Don’t pull them out when thinning though, or it could damage the tender roots of the one you’re keeping. Instead, use a sharp pair of micro-tip snips or bonsai shears to cut them off at the base.

Repotting Basil Seedlings

Once they get going, basil seedings grow fast, and can quickly outgrow their starter trays. When this happens, it’s best to pot them up to give them plenty of room to grow.

I like to use plantable pots to make transplanting them easier (and lower the risk of transplant shock). If you don’t like using peat, and prefer a more sustainable option, coco coir and cow pots are both really great.

Of course, you could also use plastic seedling pots (which are reusable) instead of plantable ones. Whatever you prefer.

Transplanting Basil Seedlings Into Your Garden

Once the weather starts warming up in the spring, we all get antsy to plant our seedlings outside! But, getting them ready for planting into the garden is a delicate process.

It’s super important to transplant them at the right time, or all of the work you put into growing basil from seed will be lost. You don’t want that, so be sure to follow these transplanting tips…

When To Transplant

Basil won’t tolerate cold weather or cold soil, so make sure you wait to transplant your seedlings into the garden until both have warmed up in the spring.

I know it’s hard to wait, but it is best to plant a little later in the spring than transplanting too early, and risk losing your seedlings to a late frost. Plus, if the soil is too cold, it will stunt basil seedling growth.

Find out how to figure out the exact timing for when to transplant seedlings into the garden here.

Hardening Off

But before you can transplant them, you must first get them used to living outside. You can’t plant basil seedlings grown indoors directly into the garden, or they will most likely die from the shock.

So make sure that you harden them off first, and do not be tempted to skip this step! Slowly transition them to life outside over a couple of weeks.

Start by placing them in a protected, shady spot for a few hours a day. Then slowly expose them to more sun, and leave them outside a little longer every day. They’ll be ready to go into the garden once they’re used to being in full sun all day.

Where To Plant

Basil grows best in a warm, sunny location. You can either plant it in the ground or in containers, it does very well either way.

They aren’t super picky about the soil, but make sure it has good drainage. Amend poor quality garden soil with compost or worm castings, or use a good container potting mix.

I like to mix an organic granular fertilizer into the soil before planting my basil seedlings, which will give them the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy.

Basil seedlings transplanted into the garden

Spacing

Though it can grow to be tall and bushy, it doesn’t need a ton of room. But ideally, you should space basil seedlings 6-12 inches apart.

Giving the plants plenty of room to grow will allow for ample airflow, and help to prevent diseases like powdery mildew.

How Deep To Plant

You can plant basil seedlings slightly deeper than they were in their container. Don’t plant them super deep, but deep enough to ensure their tender roots are completely covered.

How Long To Harvest Basil From Seed

Since we eat the leaves, rather than having to wait for them to develop fruit, you can harvest at any time. The more you harvest and pinch the tops, the bushier the plants will grow.

Never remove all of the leaves from the plant though, or it may not survive. If it starts to bolt, simply pinch out the flowers, and your basil will keep producing all summer long.

Mature basil plant ready for harvesting

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Growing basil from seed is fun… until you start having problems, and don’t how to fix it! It can be super frustrating, that’s for sure.

So in this section, I’m going to address some of the most common problems you may have, and how to fix them. You can read more about how to fix common seedling problems here.

  • Basil seeds not germinating – If your seeds aren’t germinating, then it’s either too cold, too wet, or the seeds weren’t viable (old seeds). Use a heat mat and fresh seeds for the best success, and make sure the soil is never soggy.
  • Seedlings falling over and dying – When seedlings suddenly flop over at the base and die, it’s caused by a disease called seedling blight, and is usually from using dirty equipment. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do to save the ones that have already toppled over. Be sure to clean and disinfect the flats before using them again.
  • Tall, leggy seedlings – The seedlings will grow tall and leggy when they aren’t getting enough light. So if this is happening with yours, add a grow light.
  • Basil seedlings not growing – If your seedlings are slow to grow, that usually means it’s too cold for them, or the soil moisture level is inconsistent. Move them to a warmer location, and make sure to keep the soil evenly moist (never saturated or dried out).

FAQs About Growing Basil Seeds

In this section, I will answer some of the most frequently asked questions about growing basil from seed. If you can’t find the answer to your question after reading through all of this, then ask it in the comments below.

Should I soak basil seeds before planting?

You certainly can, but it is an optional step. Soaking basil seeds before planting will soften them up, and can help to speed up germination.

How deep do you plant basil seeds?

The general rule of thumb is to plant a seed twice as deep as it is wide. Since basil seeds are so small, they should only be planted 1/4″ deep.

How long does it take to grow basil from seed?

It takes 65-70 days to grow basil from seed to harvest. You may be able to start harvesting sooner than that, but make sure to wait until the plant has several mature leaves.

How many basil seeds should I plant per hole?

If you’re using brand new seeds, then you can just plant one per hole, seed cell, or pellet. If the seeds are old, or have a low viability rate, then plant 2-3 seeds per hole, and thin out the weakest once they’re 3-4″ tall.

Do basil seeds need light to germinate?

No, basil seeds do not need light in order to germinate. But you only cover them with a thin layer of soil, and don’t bury them too deep.

How can I speed up basil seed germination?

Since basil seeds need warmth in order to sprout, adding bottom heat is the best way to speed up germination. Placing them on a heat mat will help them germinate faster. Soaking the seeds before planting can also speed things up.

Growing basil from seed is easy, and doesn’t take much time. Plus, once you know how, you’ll be able to plant any variety that you want! Simply follow the instructions in this guide, and you’ll have the best success.

Looking for a quick-start guide or refresher to get you going? Then you should grab a copy of my Starting Seeds Indoors eBook. It will show you how to grow strong, healthy seedlings indoors.

If you want to learn how to grow all of your garden plants from seed, check out my Seed Starting Course. This is a comprehensive online course that will give you step-by-step guidance and support for growing any plant you want from seed. Sign up and get started right now!

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Share your tips for how you grow basil from seed in the comments section below.

Have you noticed how expensive basil is in the grocery store? Growing my own basil, like other herbs, is one of the most cost-saving inclusions in my garden. Even if you buy the basil starts at your garden supply store in the spring and grow it in your garden, you’re saving money. But why stop there when harvesting and saving basil seed is so easy?

Step One: Let the flowers form and turn brown

In the center of the cluster of basil leaves, you’ll notice a small flower beginning to form. If you’re wanting to harvest basil leaves, this isn’t a good sign. You’ll want to pick that cluster off as soon as possible. BUT, if you want to let your basil set seeds for next season’s planting, leave the plant alone to do its thing. The green flower stalk will emerge, and you’ll soon see white flowers. Enjoy watching the bees sip that delicious basil nectar while you wait for the green flower stalk to turn brown. After it does, you’re ready for step two.

Step Two: Pinch the flowers off the stem

Though not required, this will help you separate the seeds from the dried flower petals in the next step.

Step Three: Pull/pinch seeds from the dried flowers

Because basil seeds are so tiny, this step is the most tedious. I’ve found the easiest strategy is to rub the brown flowers between my thumb and index finger until the seeds separate in my hand.

Need a visual? In this two-minute video I harvested 5 basil seeds. Of course, I harvest more than that but you can see how simple it is!

All it takes is a little planning ahead of time. Each summer I choose one basil plant to harvest and one to let develop flower stalks and go to seed. In this video I explained how to cut back the flower stalks to ensure a continuous supply of fresh basil all season.

Now What?

Once you have harvested the seeds, you have two options:

  1. Plant the seeds directly in the ground after your last spring frost has passed. Basil grows quickly and easily in the sun-warmed spring soil. Scatter the seeds and watch them emerge a few weeks later. I always plant basil around my tomatoes and anywhere bees are needed for pollination.
  2. Start the seeds indoors about four weeks before your last spring frost. These seeds take longer to sprout, and frankly I have less luck with them. I’ve found that a seedling heat mat helps; basil is particular with needing warm soil. Once your baby basil plant has a few real leaves, and the spring weather has moderated to warmth (a couple of weeks past the last spring frost), it can be transplanted to the garden.

Or, Use My Lazy Method

If you’re like me, life in the garden gets busy and you might forget to harvest your basil seeds. If that’s the case, don’t harvest the seeds at all. Instead, take the whole brown stem and crumble it up all over your garden. This fast method will scatter the seeds on the ground, and basil volunteers will sprout next year. If you know where your tomatoes will go, that’s an ideal spot.

Using these simple steps, you’ll be on your way to never buying basil again!

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Of all the edible plants people can grow in their gardens, or in containers, basil has to be the easiest of them all. No herb garden is complete without at least one basil plant growing. My only problem with growing basil is the price of basil seedlings and seeds of the nicer basil cultivars available. Growing basil from seeds is very easy and the most affordable way to grow many basil plants. Once you’ve grown a basil plant saving seeds from your basil plant is very easy, you just need to learn where to look on the plant so you know how to collect basil seeds.


The blooms of Thai basil ‘Queenette’ that I grew from seeds from ReneesGarden. A nice aromatic basil with deep purple stems, purple flowers and narrow leaves. What does this Thai basil taste and smell like? A lot like black licorice, if you ask me. I’m not a fan of black licorice but I really liked this basil.

Basil blooms grow in a grouping around the stems of the plants. Basil flowers attract beneficial insects into the garden and are pollinated by bees. After the bees have pollinated the flowers the petals and reproductive parts of the plants fall off. The part of the flower that remains is where the seeds will develop and from where you’ll collect them. Unfortunately, basil plants don’t produce seed “pods” or very large seeds, which makes saving basil seeds a bit of a challenge for a new seed-saving gardener. I’ve marked the basil flower picture above with the location of where the seeds will develop.

Usually, if you wait for a stem or seed pod to turn brown you know that it is safe to harvest the seeds. With basil seeds a mature seed can sit next to seeds that haven’t ripened yet. If you look at the underside of a flowering basil stem, you’ll be able to look up and see the developing basil seeds. See the black spots along the stem? Those are the basil seeds that are ready to be picked.

Inside each of these seed “pods” are two pairs of small black seeds. Basil seeds that are light-colored are seeds that haven’t matured.

If you want to be very meticulous about saving basil seeds you can pluck each of these pods off individually collecting only the black seeds, because mature and immature seeds develop alongside each other. Take a look at the basil seeds in the picture above.

If you don’t mind losing a few seeds: the easiest way to collect basil seeds is to allow the stems of the plants to turn brown and storing (and drying) the basil seeds inside a paper bag. Any basil seeds that fall out are caught inside the bag. Harvesting the basil seeds from among all the chaff can be a little time consuming because there will be a lot of chaff this way. Give the bag a sold shake every once in a while to help dislodge the seeds and allow them to fall into the bag. Now that you’ve harvest basil seeds from your plants, you can use the seeds to expand your herb garden or share them with friends.
Related: Growing ‘Windowbox’ Basil.

Most recent

Basil seeds have been used traditionally in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine and now they’re starting to get noticed in the West. Although research is still emerging to support the various health claims surrounding basil seeds, they definitely look like a healthy seed worth adding to your diet.

Although research is still emerging to support the various health claims surrounding basil seeds, they definitely look like a healthy seed worth adding to your diet. Photo credit: María Helena Carey / Flickr

Which Basil Seeds?

The basil seeds that are used for eating are the seeds from the sweet basil plant, Ocimum basilicum. They are also called Thai basil seeds, falooda, sabja, subza, selasih or tukmaria.

This is different from the holy basil plant, Ocimum tenuiflorum, which is also called tulsi. The leaves and oil of holy basil are used in Ayurvedic medicine for many purposes, but typically not the seeds.

Sweet basil seeds are a similar size as chia seeds. The difference is basil seeds are completely black and tear-shaped, whereas chia seeds are typically mottled shades of grey with brown and have a more rounded shape.

Like chia, basil seeds become gelatinous when soaked in water. They are used in drinks in many Asian countries for thickening as well as for health.

Sweet Basil Seeds. Photo credit: Mel Hill Photography / Flickr

Potential Health Benefits of Basil Seeds

Basil seeds are reported to have antioxidant, anticancer, antiviral, antibacterial, antispasmodic and antifungal properties.

Very little scientific research has been done on basil seeds to date. This may be because there is not a large market for the seeds yet. But some preliminary research looks promising.

Blood Sugar Regulation: According to the Sutter Gould Medical Foundation, basil seeds may help control blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes.

Digestion Help: When soaked, the fiber in the outer coat of basil seeds becomes mucus-like A few studies suggest that this fiber has a laxative effect. Basil seeds are also used to relieve stomach cramps, flatulence, constipation and indigestion.

Appetite Control: It’s suggested that the fiber in the soaked seeds has the effect of making you feel more full. This could help reduce your appetite and assist with weight loss.

Respiratory Aid: Traditionally, basil seeds are used to treat colds, flu, coughs and asthma.

Stress Relief: Consumption of basil seeds is said to have an uplifting effect on your mood and can help with mental fatigue, depression and migraine headaches.

Skin Treatments: Basil seeds can be crushed into oil as a skin treatment for wounds, cuts or skin infections.

Lowering Cholesterol Levels: A study in Thailand described how sweet basil seeds could be used to reduce cholesterol levels in patients.

Genitourinary Infections: Due to their reported antibacterial effects, basil seeds supposedly help with issues such as bladder infections and vaginal infections.

Nutritional Breakdown

A detailed nutritional study of basil seeds is currently not available. But like other seeds, basil seeds contain all the concentrated nutrients and building blocks needed to grow a new plant.

No toxicity or any harmful effects have ever been found for basil seeds. They’re recognized as safe to eat.

Their basic nutritional make-up compared to chia seeds is:

Basil Seeds Chia Seeds
Carbohydrates 42 percent 30 percent
Fats 25 percent 34 percent
Protein 20 percent 24 percent

How to Prepare and Use Basil Seeds

If you have any favorite recipes that use chia seeds, you can easily replace the chia with basil seeds. They have very similar thickening properties. For instance, chia puddings are a popular dish that can be easily made with basil seeds instead.

Basil seeds actually soak up water faster than chia. Basil will soften within about 5 minutes, whereas chia can take up to an hour to soften. Both seeds will create a thick, gelatinous mixture.

You can use the soaked basil seeds right away if you’re in a hurry, but it’s recommended to soak basil seeds for at least a couple hours before using them. This will ensure their digestive enzymes are fully released.

You can use the soaked seeds with their jelly-like coat or rinse and strain the seeds if you want to get rid of the coating.

These are a few different ways you can start eating basil seeds:

  • Add them to drinks, such as fruit juices, coconut milk or teas.
  • Blend them into smoothies.
  • Sprinkle on top of salads.
  • Mix into vegan cheeses or cream sauces.
  • Use them in desserts where you would use tapioca or other thickeners.
  • Combine with yogurt and fruit.

Avoid giving drinks or desserts with whole, soaked basil seeds to children or anyone with swallowing difficulties. They could possibly choke on the swollen seeds, especially if they’re clumped together.

Basil seeds may be carried in your local natural or Asian foods stores. If you can’t find them locally, they are available online. Desserts and frozen, canned or fresh drinks with basil seeds may also be available in some parts of the United States and other countries.

Another option is to collect the seeds from your own sweet basil plants if you grow them. Just let the plants flower and develop seeds. Once they mature, you can easily put the flowers in a paper bag, close and shake it, then remove the flower debris at the top of the bag. The heavier seeds should fall off and collect at the bottom of the bag.

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Stop Pinching your Basil! Start Saving Seeds for Next Year’s Basil Plants

In my first DG articles, I wrote about pinching back herbs for use in the kitchen. See “Get the Most from Your Herbs I: Pinch Pinch Pinch, II: Eat What You Pinch, and III: Save Some For Later.” If you want to save seeds from your basil to plant next year, however, it’s time to let a few plants flower. You can continue to harvest from part of the plant and just let a few stems bloom, if you like.

The blooms of some basil plants, such as Thai Basil ‘Siam Queen’ and ‘Magical Michael’, are so gorgeous that I rarely pinch them back to prevent flowering. The bees and butterflies are big fans of basil blooms. The bees will pollinate your basil with such enthusiasm that if you’re growing different types of basil, you may end up with cross-pollinated seeds.

There are ways to reduce the chances of cross-pollination. You can isolate your plants in space by putting different basil varieties in different parts of the garden, separating them by 50 or even 100 feet. Or, you can isolate the blooms in time by allowing only one variety of basil to start flowering and setting seed during any given week.

As a practical matter, I generally try to isolate varieties in both space and time. I further hedge my bet by not planting similar varieties next to each other. If I plant a purple basil next to my green lime basil and get a few crossed seeds, the rogues will be easy to see or sniff out in my seedling tray.

Save seeds from your best, true-to-type plants. If you’re growing my favorite Italian pesto basil, and there’s one smooth-leafed plant growing among several others with typical puckered leaves, don’t harvest seeds from the smooth leafed rogue. You can even improve a strain by saving seeds from only the healthiest, most vigorous, most desirable plants. I’ve been selectively growing out and saving seeds from the smallest-leafed plants of ‘Minette’, ending up with prettier plants each year.

The buds that aren’t pinched off will develop into spikes of delicate blooms. As the flowers mature, the petals will drop. The green carpels that remain attached to the bloom stalks contain the developing seeds. These little “pods” dry up and turn brown as the seeds mature. If you split one open, you can see the developing round seeds inside. As the seed coat hardens, it changes color from pale green to brown to black.

You’ll want to stop pinching and start allowing flowering at least 6 weeks before your projected first frost date. Once frost hits a basil plant, it’s done. The exact time from bloom to mature seed seems somewhat variable. If I want to be very sure of getting seed from a particular variety, I’ll start letting it flower in early August. I’ve also collected seeds from plants that didn’t flower until the end of September, just a few weeks before our first frost.

If the first frost warning catches you a little too early, try cutting some bloom stalks and putting them in a glass of water inside to finish maturing. If the carpels have at least started changing color, you can usually get some seeds.

When the seeds are ready, you can strip the brown carpels from the bloom stem and crumble them between your fingers to release the seeds. Mature basil seeds are small, round, and black. Separating the seed from the chaff (the dried bits and dust) can be a challenge, but with a little practice you’ll find a technique that works for you.

Dry carpels will drop some seeds if you stir them in a bowl or shake them in a bag. To get more seeds, break them up by crushing them or rubbing them between your fingers. I’ve tried a few alternatives such as putting them in a bag and using a rolling pin, but I usually end up just doing it by hand. If I put a big pile on a plate or flat bowl, I can get through a lot while watching a movie on TV.

I have a couple of sieves that I use next. A coarse sieve separates the larger bits of chaff from the seeds and dusty stuff. Then, a fine sieve lets the dust fall through while the seeds remain behind. At that point, 90% of the chaff should be gone.

Getting rid of the rest of the chaff is optional, but it leaves the seeds cleaner for storage and makes them look better for trading. The best method I’ve found for de-chaffing basil and other small seeds is “swirl and blow.” I put the seeds and chaff in a shallow bowl and gently blow the chaff away. I tilt the bowl and swirl the contents as I blow, so the heavier seeds end up on one side while the chaff blows away over the opposite edge. Doing this over a tray lets me try again in case I huff and puff too vigorously.

I like to let my seeds sit out another week or two, just to make sure they’re completely dry before I put them into labeled zip-top plastic bags. I know I’ll have fun trading these seeds over the winter here at DG! Be sure to stop by the Herb Forum as well as the Seed Trading Forum to arrange some fun swaps for your newly harvested basil seed.
Photos by Jill M. Nicolaus.

Why I’m Swapping Chia for Basil Seeds (at Least Sometimes)

I remember the first time I ever saw basil seeds. It was in the drink aisle of a gigantic Asian grocery store. I did a double-take; basil seeds? In a drink? Obviously, I had to try one.

The beverage was citrusy and filled with floating, gelatinous seeds with the texture of tapioca. It was unfamiliar to me, and at first, I thought the texture was a little slimy—but I actually enjoyed it. The seeds gave the drink a bit of chewy substance, and imparted a light, herbaceous flavor to the lemony drink.

Fair warning: you probably won’t like basil seeds if you’re not a fan of other “slimy” things: okra, tapioca, and, most similar in texture to basil seeds, chia seed puddings. But if you’re open to it, basil seeds are definitely worth a try — especially since they’re rumored to have a whole host of health benefits.

Basil seeds before and after they’ve encountered water. Photo by James Ransom

WHAT EXACTLY ARE BASIL SEEDS?

The seeds are, as their name suggests, from the Thai basil plant (not the holy basil plant). They’re similar in size to chia seeds, and also become gelatinous when wet—though they still retain their crunchy interior.

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Also called sabja in Indian culture the seeds have a mild floral flavor and are typically used as a thickening agent for beverages. One especially popular drink featuring basil seeds is faluda, a dessert beverage from India which is a combination of soaked basil seeds, rose syrup, vermicelli noodles, and milk. Sometimes it’s even topped off with ice cream. The drink is consumed during hot months in India, as basil seeds are believed to have cooling and soothing properties.

“I’ve been enjoying faluda for as long as I can remember, though I particularly associate it with Saturdays,” shares Associate Editor Nikkitha Bakshani. “It was something my family and I would drink after an afternoon movie, say, or in lieu of the usual tea and biscuits at home. Basil seeds are my favorite part of faluda—yes, even more than the rose milk—because it gives the whole drink a gelatinous, en-route-to-panna-cotta texture that drives my entire family wild. Seriously; my mom is known to spontaneously break into a demand for faluda.”

ARE THERE HEALTH BENEFITS?

Basil and its seeds have been used in Chinese and ayurvedic medicine practices for centuries. They’re most well-known for being a digestive aid and soothing upset stomachs.

According to the ladies of C&J Nutrition, our health knowledge gurus, some preliminary research in mice shows that there may be a connection between basil seed extract and reduced complications of type 2 diabetes (though the connection to humans remains unclear). They’re also rumored to help relieve constipation, most likely because they contain dietary fiber. Not exactly the sexiest of properties, but hey—it’s useful.

Basil leaves are high in Vitamin K, which reduces risk of blood clotting. We can hazard a guess that these benefits will extend to basil seeds as well, though it’s not 100% clear.

On the whole, very little scientific research has been done on basil seeds to date, perhaps due to the fact that they’re still a pretty niche product in the U.S. But regardless, they’re delicious and a fun ingredient to incorporate into your summer repertoire.

WHAT CAN I DO WITH THEM?

Basil seeds are an excellent addition to lemonade iced milky tea, or any sort of fresh juice (we really want to try them with watermelon juice). Just let them soak in the liquid for at least five minutes to let them gel.

You can also pre-soak basil seeds and keep them on hand to spoon onto your morning yogurt, or add some texture and floral taste to gelato or fruity sorbet. Or turn them into a pudding a la chia seeds by soaking them in the milk of your choice (coconut milk would be especially good). Or you could also mix basil seeds into ricotta along with basil leaves for a creamy, herbaceous pasta topping or crostata spread.

If you want to try basil seeds yourself, here’s a handy preparation formula from Max Falkowitz at Serious Eats: 1 teaspoon of the seeds soaked in 8 ounces of liquid (water, lemonade, or even alcohol will do) will expand into about 3 tablespoons of gellated orbs in about five minutes.

WHERE DO I FIND THEM?

You can track down some basil seeds at larger Asian grocery stores and, of course, the internet. If you’re feeling especially thrifty, you can even harvest your own from that basil plant on your window! Pluck off its flowered stalks and let them dry, then gently break them apart with your fingertips and sift out the small black seeds.

Basil seeds can easily be mistaken for chia seeds. Photo by James Ransom

SO, WHAT’S THE VERDICT?

Basil seeds may not cure all your digestive woes, but if you want to switch up your chia seed game or just want to add a new drink into your summer beverage rotation, try some basil seeds on for size.

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Have you ever tried basil seeds? Tell us about it below.

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Your comments and tips

Post a comment or question Display Newest first | Oldest first, Show comments for Australia | for all countries 21 Sep 19, Benjamin (Australia – cool/mountain climate) Hi guys just wondering can you grow Basil all year round if I plant the basil in the ground when it cools down again for winter will it come back or should I keep it in pots in the winter months undercover and replant again in med September. 16 Nov 19, Michelle (Australia – temperate climate) My Basil has grown all year round in Melbourne as I gave it protection from the wintery frost. 23 Sep 19, Anon (Australia – arid climate) Ask around and see if you get some perennial basil. It grows all year. 30 May 19, Patrick (New Zealand – sub-tropical climate) Hi , Have successfully grown Basil in large pots this summer ,with the cooler weather upon us have cut the plants right back – 4/5 cms from ground level – will the plants now survive the winter and become productive again next summer or should I simply pull them out and start afresh in the late spring? Your comments / advice please 18 Jun 19, (Australia – sub-tropical climate) Why would you cut a plant back so hard? It’s like you going from 5 meals a day to one snack. 01 Sep 18, Pam Luxmoore (Australia – cool/mountain climate) I’m at my cousins place on Mt Tamborine. Magnificent views over Gold Coast. Can I plant basil seeds now for her and do they like full morning sun ( view of coast ) or afternoon sun the other side. Could easily grow inside or outside with partial shade etc. thanks Pam 02 Sep 18, Mike (Australia – sub-tropical climate) Google it – basil full sun. 6-8 hrs of sunlight. 19 Aug 18, Joe (Australia – temperate climate) I have cleared my entire garden and am planning starting veggies and herbs. My garden has areas that are full sun, partial sun, and full shade. I live in Perth, WA, temperate climate. Can anyone help me in finding out which veggies like to be planted in full sun , partial sun, and shady parts of my garden ? Thanks Joe 25 Aug 18, Peta (Australia – temperate climate) Just remember that “Perth sun” is stronger than normal sun. so most plants that are “full sun” need partial shade in our summers. Now is definitely tomato and basil season. I would figure out what you like to eat first and put those in as a priority and work around them. Ask your local garden centre including your local hardware garden centre 🙂 27 Aug 18, Mike (Australia – temperate climate) I would dispute that the Perth sun is stronger than normal sun. 35 or 40 degrees is the same everywhere. It is the humidity or dryness that is the difference. A humid 35 degrees in SE Qld is just as prickly as a 40+ dry Easterly in Perth. I have lived in both and I know which I would prefer – WA. Showing 1 – 10 of 77 comments

Growing Sweet Basil: Don’t Let Good Basil Go Bad

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Do you have any experience growing sweet basil? I’ve had a lot of success in growing herbs outdoors, but growing basil has always been our most successful crop. It’s also one of my favorite things to start in the early spring when I’m growing herbs from seed. Do you know when it’s the best time to harvest and use your basil? Take a look at the picture here. Do you see the top of the basil, where tiny leaves are bunching up? They look scrunchy and spiky. Yep, it’s time to make pesto.

You see, basil has a primal need to procreate. As soon as it creates flowers, its mission on this earth is done. It will stop growing, and will soon go to seed and die. But when you’re growing sweet basil, you can prevent that easily by paying a little attention to your plant and enjoying more Italian food.

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Growing sweet basil requires two things: heat and sun. Basil loves the heat. It loves the sun. Like other green leafy plants, it will bolt soon … but unlike other green leafies, simply cutting off the bolting part will keep the plant going. It will just create offshoots and try again. So you cut again. Do this all the way until frost, and you’ll soon have all the pesto you want.

Growing Sweet Basil: How to Propagate the Basil Plant

Some people cut the basil all the way back, leaving just one or two leaves to catch the sun. I like to search down the stem, below the top foliage. Part way down the stalk, you’ll see a large leaf on each side. At the joint of each of those leaves, some other tiny leaves will be trying to grow. Cut the stalk just above that new growth. Now you have a stalk of basil to cook with, and two little offshoots that will just keep on growing and try to make basil babies of their own.

Growing Sweet Basil: Uses for Fresh Basil

Chop or grind into pizza or pasta sauce. Grind up for pesto, adding garlic, olive oil, maybe some Parmesan or pine nuts. Use fresh on top of tomatoes, pizzas, or salads. Mix squished blueberries, a little blueberry jam, some balsamic vinegar, and minced basil for a Blueberry Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette.

Growing Sweet Basil: Preserving Basil

First of all, do not put it in the fridge! Basil can wilt and blacken at temperatures of 45°F or below. Your fridge is in the 30s. To preserve it best, stick it in a glass of water on your counter top, bouquet-style. If you put that glass in the sun, you may find the basil eventually grows roots. Plant it or eat it … your choice.

You can chop up the leaves and freeze them individually in ice cube trays. Choose a liquid such as water, vegetable or chicken broth, or olive oil. Pack the chopped leaves in the trays, then pour in enough liquid to fill in the gaps. Freeze. When the cubes are frozen, dump them into a freezer bag. Take them out later and drop them directly into soups, or thaw them to use in sauces.

Growing Sweet Basil: Basic Pesto Techniques

Recipes for pesto can differ. Some have Parmesan, some have pine nuts. I often don’t have those on hand. I always do have garlic and olive oil, though. To make my basic pesto, I grind up the leaves then mix them with pressed garlic and just enough olive oil to make a liquidy mush. I pack this mixture in flexible ice cube trays I buy at the Dollar Store, freeze, then empty the cubes into freezer bags. The flexible trays really help with the pesto, since oil doesn’t freeze as solid as a water-based liquid will.

When I want to use the pesto, I’ll throw one cube into a pot of simmering marinara or thaw two to toss with my favorite pasta. I also use a lot of it, with some asiago cheese, cinnamon-roll style for a savory dinner roll.

Is basil a staple on your garden herbs list? What is your favorite way to use basil?

Originally published in 2014 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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