What does fresh basil look like?

Sweet Basil

Ocimum basilicum

Annual

Description

Perhaps the most popular and widely used culinary herb. It is a tender annual, aromatic plant with a spicy odor and flavor. It grows 12-18 inches tall and foliage color can range from green to purple. Foliage size can vary from large lettuce-like leaves to very small leaves, half inch in size.

Culture

Basil is easily grown from seed or from tip cuttings of overwintered plants. Because basil is sensitive to cold temperatures, seeds germinate and grow best when the media temperature is at least 70 degrees. Seeds will germinate in about 5-7 days. If sowing seed indoors to grow transplants for later use out in the garden, allow about 3-4 weeks to produce transplants suitable for transplanting well after the frost free date and when soil temperatures are at least 60 degrees and above. Cold soil and air temperatures can stunt basil growth and can even cause damage and blackened leaves at 50 degrees. Basil prefers a sunny location, and a soil that is well supplied with organic matter and is fertile. Basil also likes to be kept well-watered. Poorly prepared soils that are low in nutrients result in slow growing basil that is not very flavorful. Basil is excellent as a decorative/culinary herb in patio or balcony containers or in the garden.

Harvesting

Limited harvesting of the leaves can start on young plants and as they get larger, individual leaves as well as tips of the plants can be harvested. Pinching the tips of stems encourages a bushy plant and more leaf growth resulting in a round plant full of aromatic basil. Basil flower buds should be removed by pinching as soon as you see them form. Leaving them on the plant will affect the flavor of the leaves.

Use

Basil picked for use in the kitchen is best held in a glass of water at room temperature. Putting basil in the refrigerator results in discolored and unattractive leaves. Basil is easily dried for storing and future use. It is used to flavor soups, stews, tomato dishes, meat, game, fish, egg dishes, herb butters and herb vinegars.

Indoor Culture

Basil is easily grown as a window sill herb for fall, winter and early spring harvest. Sow several seeds in a small pot filled with a prepared potting media. Keep moist and place in a full sun location. Harvesting can begin in about 4-5 weeks. Making successive sowings of seed at 2 week intervals insures a continuous supply of fresh basil.

Popular Varieties

Sweet Basil Group: These are the familiar sweet scented types.

  • Napoletano – Standard lettuce-leaved.
  • Medinette – Compact, large leaf.
  • Romanesco – Large leaf with strong aroma.

Genovese Group: Classic large leaf from the Genoa area of Italy, the pesto capital of the world.

  • Genovese – Classic.
  • Emily – Compact variety.
  • Dolly – Heavy produce of large leaves. More cold tolerant.

Bush Group: Smaller, rounded forms often with small, finer textured foliage.

  • Spicy Globe – Uniform and dense.
  • Green Globe – Dense, tight globe form.
  • Bush – Standard bush variety.

Purple Group: Basils with dark purple to bronze foliage. They are often very decorative.

  • Dark Opal – Pure dark purple foliage excellent for vinegars.
  • Emerald Wine™ – Compact, wine red leaf veins surrounded by a green border.
  • Rubin – Purple bronze foliage.

Other Basils: A selection of basils with distinctive flavors and aromas.

  • Cinnamon – Distinctive cinnamon taste and aroma.
  • Lemon – Intense lemon fragrance.
  • Clove – Clove scented leaves.
  • Thai – Licorice-like aroma.
  • Introduction
  • Herb Directory
  • Preserving Herbs
  • Recipes
  • Credits

You’ve made caprese salad and pesto, but what next? Get the most out of basil season with these 28 basil recipes + my best growing tips!

After a few years of trial and error, Jack and I can safely say that, as long as you have access to a good sunny spot, growing basil is something everyone can do. More importantly, I think that it’s something everyone should do, especially if you enjoy cooking. Buying those small packets of herbs in the store is far more expensive than growing your own, and I’ve found that when I have basil, thyme, and mint right outside my back door, I toss them onto everything. Growing herbs has become my go-to strategy for making easy meals into elevated ones – a handful of fresh herbs can transform a simple pizza or pasta into something bright, flavorful, and delicious.

Growing Basil – My Best Tips

If you’re thinking about starting to grow basil, here are a few pointers I’ve learned over the last few summers:

  • It’s cold-sensitive, so if you’re growing your plants outside like we do, you don’t want to start too early in the season. Make sure you’re clear of any major temperature dips before getting your plantings going.
  • Grow it from transplants. If you have a good greenhouse nearby, pick up a few starter plants there rather than growing your herbs from seed. You can also often find transplants at the farmers market. We’ve had success this way – it’s easier to focus on keeping the plants alive than getting them going – and you can start using the leaves much faster.
  • Don’t forget to water them – or not. Last year, Jack watered our plants 1-2 times per day. This year, we’ve had SO much rain, we’ve hardly had to water them at all – we actually worried about overwatering from the rain alone! Just make sure the soil around the plant is moist, and if it’s not, water around its roots.
  • Pinch off leaves right at the stem so the plant will create branches and produce more leaves. We had two plants last year, and they produced leaves from June-October!
  • If your plants flower, pinch them off. This way, the plants will put energy into creating more leaves, as opposed to flowers and seeds. I actually like to eat the basil flowers – try sprinkling them over salads or pastas for extra-concentrated basil flavor.

What are your best growing tips? Let me know in the comments!

How to Use Basil

As I said above, basil is cold-sensitive, so pick it right before you want to use it. Otherwise, store stalks at room temperature in a glass of water. You can also freeze it for longer storage – read more about freezing herbs on page 94 of Love & Lemons Every Day.

When you’re ready to use it, your options are endless. Of course, if you’re looking for basil recipes, pesto has to be your #1. Stir it into pasta, slather it on sandwiches or toast, top it onto eggs, drizzle it over salads, or dollop it onto grilled veggies. Rich, nutty, and bright, it automatically kicks any dish up a notch.

Otherwise, basil goes especially well with Asian or Italian flavors, so toss it into a stir fry or make a classic caprese salad. Here are some other everyday ways to use it:

  • Top whole leaves onto pizza.
  • Finish pasta with whole or thinly sliced leaves.
  • Blend it into sauces.
  • Puree it into soups.
  • Chop it up to add to a salad.
  • Use it to garnish avocado toast.
  • Turn it into an ice cream topping! Jazz up vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries, basil, and a balsamic reduction.

Want more ideas? Below are a few of my favorite basil recipes to get you started.

Basil Appetizer Recipes

Get any meal off to a fresh, summery start by making a basil-forward appetizer. Add it to summer rolls & blend it into a dipping sauce to go with them, puree it into a cool soup, or slide it onto simple caprese skewers.

1. Avocado Summer Rolls

2. Basil & Zucchini Soup

3. Caprese Peach Skewers

Sandwiches & Toasts

If you have a few sprigs of basil on hand that you don’t know what to do with, you can never go wrong by topping them onto avocado toast. I’ll also add whole leaves straight to sandwiches or blend them into a creamy spread to make a vibrant, hearty vegetarian sandwich filling.

4. Strawberry Basil Avocado Toast

5. Tomato, Basil & Artichoke Picnic Sandwich

6. Chickpea Pan Bagnat Sandwiches

Pasta & Grain Recipes

You couldn’t compile a list of basil recipes without including a grain and pasta section. We all love pesto pasta, but you can take nearly any pasta dish or grain bowl to the next level by adding a handful of fresh herbs. Here are just a few of my favorites.

7. Quick & Easy Pesto Pasta

8. One Pot Penne Pasta

9. Orzo with Lemon, Herbs & Summer Vegetables

10. Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese

11. Roasted Vegetable Pasta

12. Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

13. Creamy Pasta Pomodoro

14. Mango Ginger Rice Bowl

Pizza Basil Recipes

Fresh basil is a pizza essential! I like to blend it into pesto to dollop on generously along with the veggie toppings. I also almost always finish pizzas with a few whole leaves. Be sure to add these right before serving so that they don’t get brown and lose their flavor in the oven.

15. Summer Blackberry Pizza

16. The Best Vegan Pizza

17. Herb Garden Zucchini Pizza

Salad Recipes

Once you start adding fresh herbs to your salads, you won’t look back. They add delicious, intense, and unexpected notes to any combination of fruits & veggies. In each of the recipes below, the addition of fresh basil leaves makes the final salad really shine.

18. Grilled Corn Salad

19. Watermelon Salad with Feta

20. Cherry Tomato Couscous Salad

21. Spicy Watermelon Tomato Salad

22. Pattypan Squash Panzanella

23. Summer Panzanella Salad

24. Summer Asian Slaw

25. Strawberry Caprese Salad

26. Easy Pasta Salad

Basil Recipes for Dessert

With its sweet, fresh flavor, basil is a wonderful unexpected addition to desserts, especially when it’s paired with summer fruits. Try stirring it into the filling of strawberry shortcake or blending it into a berry sorbet. Or keep things simple – just sprinkle it over berries with a dollop of coconut cream.

27. Strawberry Shortcake

28. Raspberry Basil Blender Sorbet, page 253, Love & Lemons Every Day

Basil 101: Pesto

rate this recipe: 5 from 1 vote Prep Time: 5 mins Total Time: 5 mins Serves 1 cup A classic pesto recipe. Check out this post for more pesto variations.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for a smoother pesto
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, optional

Instructions

  • In a food processor, combine the pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt, pepper, and pulse until well chopped.
  • Add the basil and pulse until combined.
  • With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and pulse until combined. Add the parmesan cheese, if using, and pulse to briefly combine. For a smoother pesto, add more olive oil.

Pinching Basil Blooms: Should Basil Be Allowed To Flower

I grow basil every year in a container on my deck, near enough to the kitchen to easily grab a few sprigs to liven up almost any culinary creation. Generally, I use it so frequently that the plant doesn’t get a chance to flower, but every so often I am remiss in its use and, voila, I end up with tiny delicate blooms on basil. The question is then, should basil be allowed to flower and if so, can you eat basil flowers?

Basil Plant Flowering

If your basil plant has flowered, the question of what to do depends on what you are growing the herb for. Basil is a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae, with over 40 known varieties. Most folks grow it for its aromatic and flavorful foliage, redolent of mint and clove with slight peppery notes.

Although basil is most often associated with the Mediterranean or Italy, the herb actually originated in Asia — Thailand, Vietnam and parts of India — where it is often grown as a perennial. Because of this broad connection, basil can be found in almost every cuisine on the planet.

Among the vast varieties of basil,

Ocimum basilicum, or sweet basil, is the most commonly grown. Ocimum is derived from the Greek meaning “to be fragrant” and thus, is evocative of this plant’s delicious foliage. Basil leaves, whether sweet basil or purple, spicy Thai or citrusy lemon basil, all contain essential oils responsible for their unique flavor nuances. The foliage is easily bruised, releasing the magnificent perfume. So then, should basil be allowed to flower?

Blooms on Basil

So, if your basil plant has flowered, is this a good thing or a bad thing? If you are cultivating basil strictly for its leaves, it is best to remove the flowers. Pinching basil blooms back will allow all of the plant’s energy to stay focused on foliage production, creating a bushier plant with more leaves and maintaining higher levels of essential oils in the leaves. Leaving the flowers on basil plants tends to engender a straggly looking specimen with fewer leaves to harvest.

That said, if you have also been remiss in pinching basil blooms, just snip them off and, as they are quite pretty, put them in a bud vase to enjoy on the window sill. Or, you can also sprinkle them on a salad or over pasta to enliven the dish because, yes, basil flowers are edible. They also make great tea! You can expect the blooms to taste similar to the leaves, but with a milder flavor.

If, however, your intent when cultivating basil is for a big batch of pesto, you’ll want to pinch back the herb to encourage leaf growth. Pinch off the flower buds as soon as they emerge. Basil will usually need to be pruned every two to three weeks and it’s okay to go at it. The plant can tolerate a severe pruning which will, in fact, promote growth.

Lastly, fertilize your basil sparingly, as it will actually decrease the fragrant essential oils, and harvest the leaves in the early morning when they are at their peak. Don’t overreact if the plant blossoms — just pinch back the blooms or, better yet, cut back half the foliage. Use both for dinner and the plant will double in size within a couple of weeks, healthier and bushier than before.

Preventing Basil From Flowering

In Tahiti I have a large organic garden. In the garden I have planted two different types of basil plants. One is the large leaf Italian basil and the other is the small leaf basil. In the beginning I left the plants to grow and produce flowers. Periodically I would cut the plants. However, the plants would start to die off after a few months. I would need to replant new basil plants every 4 to 5 months.

I use the basil plants around the garden to help control different bugs that attack my vegetables. I also use the fresh basil leaves in salads, cooking, and to make basil oil. The basil oil is excellent for cooking, stops the itch from bug bites, and makes a great salad dressing.

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A few years back I discovered I could keep my basil plants growing for over a year if I just cut the flowers from the plants every 2 to 3 weeks. Each time my plants start to flower I trim off the flowers on the plants. This keeps the plants healthy and growing strong.

After cutting the flowers off the plants I either remove the leaves to put in a plastic bag in my refrigerator or I hang the cut branches up to dry out. I take the dried leaves and crush them to make dried basil. I store the crushed basil leaves in a bottle and use them to make soups, sauces, and seasoning for other foods.

The plants you see here in my photos were planted at the end of March. They are around 4 months old and growing strong and healthy. I keep them trimmed and the flowers cut off the plants. If you trim your basil plants every 2 to 3 weeks you too can grow giant basil plants in your garden.

Basil flower tips and recipes

Basil flowers are beautiful to look at, smell gorgeous and attract bees and other beneficial insects. It is tempting to leave the flowers on because they look so pretty, but removing them encourages the plant to put its energy into continuing to produce abundant leaves for longer – for salads, pesto, preserving and summer cooking.

I pinch the flowers heads out using my fingernails or a knife, removing any damaged leaves at the same time. The more ‘gone over’, seedy flower heads and damaged leaves go in the compost bucket but the fresher flowers are put in a trug and saved for the kitchen. I try to use as much of every plant as I can, avoiding waste as much as possible so these recipes offer ways of using something that is usually composted right away and making something fragrant or delicious.

What can you do with basil flowers?

Sprinkle on summer salads – use whole tender buds or remove the tiny individual flowers: colourful and flavourful. Lemon and lime basil is especially delicious on a fruit salad.

Dry them – to use in potpourri, crushed as a seasoning or to make herbal teas.

Gather into small bunches, tie with string and hang in an airy place. I would usually dry them somewhere darker than this, in the airing cupboard or understairs cupboard, but those places were a bit dark for a photo so these are in my kitchen.

Or dry on a herb drying rack. When dry, crush between your fingers or in a pestle and mortar to use as a culinary herb, then store in a labelled jar. For potpourri, add to other dried flowers and herbs and pour into little fabric bags to fragrance drawers or in bowls around your home.

For a quick homemade herb drying rack, line plastic mushroom crates with muslin, tea towels or kitchen roll. They have lots of holes to allow air to circulate, can be stacked easily and are usually free from greengrocers.

Make basil flower oil

Put the flowers into a glass jar

Pour on olive oil until the flowers are completely submerged. I pushed the leaves down in this jar and then topped it up before putting a lid on.

You need to make sure that all of the flowers are submerged in the oil so that they don’t go mouldy. A preserving weight can be useful here. Leave in a cool place, checking daily for 2 weeks to 1 month, depending how strongly flavoured you would like the oil to be.

(The clips are to stop the lid falling off, this is one of my canning jars.)

When ready, drain through a fine sieve or muslin (compost the flowers) and store in a clean jar or bottle. It makes delicious dressings and marinades.

Make basil flower vinegar

This is similar to making basil flower oil. Here I also added leaves that had come off when I picked the flowers – mostly from lemon and lime scented basils.

Add flowers to the jar and pour on white wine vinegar. Push the flowers down a bit and add more vinegar until it fully covered the basil. Put the lid on and leave in a cool place, checking regularly, for a week or two. Strain as above and bottle.

How to Prune and Harvest Basil

Welcome to Homegrown/Homemade, a video series from FineGardening.com and our sister site FineCooking.com. We’ll be following a gardener (Danielle Sherry) and a cook (Sarah Breckenridge) as they plant, maintain, harvest, store, and prepare food crops. Basil is prized by cooks all over the world, and there are many varieties to choose from. For this year’s garden, Sarah has selected Genovese basil, opal basil, lemon basil, lime basil, and Thai basil.

Episode 2: How to Prune (and Harvest) Basil

Basil loves hot weather, and if your plants are flourishing, it’s time to prune (and harvest). With basil, pruning and harvesting are essentially the same thing. It’s a win-win situation for you and for the plant. When you pinch back the stems to the next leaf cluster, you keep the plant from getting leggy and stimulate new growth. You can take the trimmings back to the kitchen and use them for pesto. Don’t prune more than one-third of the plant at one time, even if it means postponing your pesto meal for a week or two.

Check your basil plants frequently for flowers, and if you see any, pinch them off right away. If the flower stems are too woody to pinch (often the case with Thai basil), cut them off with shears. A plant allowed to flower will soon go to seed, stop growing, and die, so be vigilant about removing flowers.

In wet, cool weather, basil may be prone to powdery mildew, a fungal problem which can be treated with a backing soda solution or an organic fungicide.

Episode 1: How to Plant Basil

All basil varieties grow well in full sun in rich, well-drained soil. Basil loves hot weather, so don’t plant it too early. For best results, wait until the night temperature is at least 65°F. Mix in some compost, and space the plants about 1 ft. apart, then water. Basil doesn’t need a lot of fertilizer as it grows; in fact, too much fertilizer adversely affects the flavor.

Episode 3: How to Preserve and Store Basil: Pesto

Fresh basil wilts and loses its color and fragrance and aroma soon after harvesting. If you aren’t going to use it right away, there are several ways you can prolong its life. Basil springs in a jar of cold water will keep for a couple of days. If you cover the springs with a plastic bag, the sprigs will keep from three to five days in the fridge. You can also prepare a pesto with 3-3/4 ounces (5 packed cups) washed and dried basil leaves, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 1 large clove garlic, and some salt and pepper. Chop these ingredients into a food processor, then drizzle in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil while the motor is running. Last, stir in 1 ounce (1 cup if rasped, 1/2 cup if grated with a box grater) grated Parmesan cheese by hand. This mixture can be stored for about three days in the fridge in a container with an airtight lid. Before sealing, drizzle more olive oil over the mixture to cover the mixture and form a seal, preventing oxidation. For longer-term storage, freeze your pesto in an ice-cube tray. Transfer the frozen cubes to a plastic freezer bag, and store in the freezer until you need them.

Cooking with Basil: Thai Stir-Fried Chicken with Basil

When you cook with any kind of basil, add it at the very end, because heat destroys the volatile oils that give basil its aroma and flavor. Here’s a quick-to-make dish that shows off the licorice-like flavor of Thai basil. For stir-frying prep all the ingredients before you begin. Heat vegetable oil in a skillet, and once it starts to shimmer, you’re ready to begin. Shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes go first, followed by thinly sliced strips from chicken cutlets. Cook until the chicken loses its pink color, then make a sauce with water, fish sauce, lime juice, and brown sugar. When the sauce cooks down, it’s time to turn off the heat and add the basil leaves. Serve over rice. Get the full recipe for this dish on FineCooking.com.

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How to Dry Basil Flowers

As you grow basil in your herb garden, one of the challenges is to continually remove the blossoms as they form on the plant. If you allow the basil flowers to grow, the plant will soon go to seed and stop producing new leaves. Don’t discard the basil flowers as you remove them throughout the summer–dry them and use them. Basil flowers smell and taste faintly of basil, so just add them to your dried basil leaves.

Clip the basil flowers from the basil plants at the point where the flowers connect with the stem. Remove every basil flower you find growing on the basil plant.

Group three to four basil flowers together at the base of the flowers. Secure the flowers together with a rubber band.

Unfold one paper clip for each bunch of basil flowers; form each clip into an “S” shape.

Hook one end of the paper clip onto the rubber band and hang the other end to a nail or hook in a dry and warm location.

Hang the basil flowers upside down for three to four days. Check the basil flowers after this time to see if they are completely dry. If the flowers feel dry and crispy when you touch them, they are sufficiently dry. Remove them from the hanging location.

Store the dried basil flowers in a glass or plastic container with a tight fitting lid. Combine the flowers with dried basil leaves and crush both together to create a delicious basil blend for seasoning savory dishes.

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