How to harvest basil: expert advice on picking & storing
Basil is not only a staple in Italian cuisine; the versatile herb is just as popular here. Read our complete guide on successfully picking and preserving basil.
Essential for green pesto, pizza and many cocktails – it is hard to find another herb that can conjure up the flavour of Mediterranean summers quite like basil (Ocimum basilicum). No herb garden is complete without the king of herbs. In fact, even without a garden you can grow basil in a pot on your windowsill or balcony. However, this demanding herb can be a bit challenging to look after because it requires special care when it comes to growing and harvesting. Find out everything you need to know about harvesting and storing basil correctly, so that you can save yourself some grief and instead collect fragrant green leaves all summer long.
When to harvest basil?
Basil can be harvested all year if it is grown and cared for properly. Perennial varieties can usually withstand the winter and may even provide some aromatic leaves to the kitchen during the cold months. However, the colder it gets, the less basil grows, so in winter do not take more than the plant can handle and try not to harvest at all. Annual basil varieties will thrive between April and October and can be harvested during this period.
Summary: The best time to harvest basil
- Perennial varieties: All year round (under ideal conditions)
- Annual varieties: April – October
How to harvest basil leaves
Although it may be tempting to just pluck individual leaves from your aromatic basil, do not harvest annual plants with soft stems this way, as you will damage the shoots and ultimately cause them to wither. To ensure a long life for your basil, harvest only the tips of the shoots. Simply pinch or cut off the stems above the last pair of leaves using your fingers or scissors. Leave the leaf nodes intact so that more leaves can grow from them, resulting in a beautiful bushy plant. Harvesting basil leaves in this manner also delays flowering, extending the harvesting season. While you can still pick basil after it has begun to flower, it will change the flavour of the leaves. Some perennial varieties form resilient shrubs with woody stems that are not bothered if you pick leaves off individually, unlike their more delicate annual counterparts.
Summary: Picking basil leaves
- Do not pick off individual leaves from herbaceous annual varieties
- Harvest only the leaves at the top of the shoot
- Pinch or cut off the topmost part of stems just above the leaf node
- New side shoots can then emerge from the leaf nodes
- Freely pluck individual leaves from perennial woody plants
Basil: storing and preserving
Of course, nothing beats the taste of freshly picked basil. However, by preserving your harvested leaves, you will be able to enjoy their aromatic flavour for months to come. For example, chop up fresh leaves and soak them in olive oil to use in cooking or salad dressings. Alternatively, preserve your basil by transforming it into a delicious green pesto. Other methods include preserving it in salt or infusing white wine vinegar.
Summary: Ways to preserve basil leaves
- Soak in olive oil
- Classic green pesto
- Herbal salt blend
- White wine vinegar infusion
It goes without saying that you can freeze or dry basil to extend its shelf life. Find out how in the next sections.
Freezing basil leaves
The question whether basil can be frozen is quite common and has a simple answer: Yes, you can freeze basil. Just keep in mind that basil loses a lot of its signature aroma and colour in the freezer and rapidly turns mushy and brown. Fortunately, there are a few methods for optimising basil freezing that overcome these downfalls. One option is to blanch the leaves before freezing them to preserve their taste and green colour. Another tried and true approach is to freeze them in water, such as in ice cube trays to make portioning easier. Plus, these frozen basil ice cubes will be a tasty accent to a refreshing herb cocktail. Last but not least, basil pesto can be frozen. The additional oil and salt help to preserve the flavour, and the pesto keeps even longer in the freezer.
Summary: How can you freeze basil?
- Freeze fresh basil leaves
- Blanch and freeze the basil
- Freeze in water
- Freeze basil pesto
Basil: drying methods
It is a common misconception that air drying basil for preservation works well. In fact, removing the herb’s moisture is not the best method because it simply dries up the aromatic essential oils that provide the flavour in the first place. As a result, dried basil loses the majority of its flavour. In general, the faster you dry basil, the less flavour it retains. Nonetheless, dried basil remains a distinct and flavour-enhancing kitchen staple, whether used as an herb or to refine herbal salt.
How to dry basil:
- Choose a dry, dark place
- Hang stems upside down
- Let them dry for two weeks
- Dry basil in the oven or dehydrator as an alternative
Tip: Make sure to choose the best substrate for your plant so that you can harvest aromatic basil. We recommend using our peat-free Plantura Organic Tomato & Vegetable Compost, which contains all of the essential nutrients your basil needs.
- Perfect for tomatoes & other vegetables such as chillies, courgettes & more
- For strong & healthy plant growth as well as an abundant vegetable harvest
- Peat-free & organic soil: CO2-saving composition