When and How to Harvest Basil?

Basil is one of the most aromatic herbs and can be easily found in most homes. To make the best use of the plant, it is important to know when and how to harvest Basil correctly.

Timing is crucial when it comes to harvesting basil for the first time. Harvesting basil leaves can be started when the plant is about 6 to 8 inches tall. It should have at least 6 to 8 leaves per branch.

Some sources recommend waiting until the plant is at least 12 inches long. This might not work if you have a shorter, bushier plant as you will need to wait too long to harvest.

Harvesting at 6 to 8 inches also means that your plant will grow to be bushier, rather than tall with fewer leaves.

If you purchase an already grown plant, you will be able to harvest it very soon after repotting it and giving it time to settle in the new environment.

However, if you are growing your basil from seed, it will be at least 60 days, roughly around 8 weeks, before you can start harvesting the leaves.

Tips for Harvesting Basil

  • After the first harvest, basil leaves can be picked off as and when you need them. The best time to pick off the leaves is when there are abundant leaves but flowering hasn’t started yet.
  • It is also better to harvest them when you need them, as basil tastes best when eaten fresh.
  • The best time to harvest basil is in the morning. The leaves are packed with the most flavor at this time. Although morning is the best time to harvest, you can pick the leaves at any time during the day.
  • Try to harvest your basil when the climate is cool and the plants are well-hydrated. A dehydrated plant will have wilted leaves, while a hydrated plant will be fresh.
  • To get a large, bushy, and healthy basil plant, pinch off the tips every time a branch has 6 to 8 leaves. Doing this will ensure the regular growth of the leaves and give you more foliage. Pruning regularly this way also results in aromatic leaves.
  • Also, harvest the leaves before it starts forming buds for flowering. Once the flowers start to grow, the taste of the basil leaves turns bitter. So it is important not to leave the buds on the plant.
  • Because basil is an annual herb, once it flowers, it completes its natural life cycle and soon dies after flowering. Pruning off the buds before they even start blooming also helps lengthen the lifespan of your basil plant.
  • Basils love the warm climate. It cannot withstand the cold and start to wilt if it feels too cold. If you want, you can dig up the plant from the outside and re-pot it inside the house where it is warmer.
  • However, if you do not want to do that, then you need to harvest all the leaves before the first frost. This is because the cold damages the plant and the plant does not grow well even at 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Harvesting needs to be done regularly. This will prevent the growth of any flowers and the plant will produce more leaves and live longer. Pruning the basil every two weeks during the summer will encourage better growth.

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How many Basil leaves you should Harvest?

For young plants, pick just a few leaves. As the plant matures, you can pick off more leaves, along with the tips of the branches.

While harvesting, make sure that you do not harvest more than half of the plant. This will ensure that the plant has time to grow back. The plant will develop more leaves in 2 to 3 weeks.

If you only need a few leaves, then pick off leaves from different branches or plants. But, if you cut off one entire stem, it might not re-grow.

If you need a large amount of basil, then start harvesting the top leaves first and the bottom leaves later if needed.

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How to Harvest Basil?

To harvest basil, you can use your fingers, hand pruners, or herb snips.

Fingers are the best for pinching off leaves or flower buds, or even tiny shoots, but if you are doing aggressive pruning, sharp hand pruners might be the way to go.

This is so that you do not damage the stems in the process.

How to harvest basil for the first time?

The first time to harvest basil is when it is 6 to 8 inches tall.

However, if you have a store-bought plant that is already more than 6 to 8 inches tall, firstly separate the basil into individual plants, and then trim about one-third, by cutting just above a set of side shoots.

After this initial cutting, the first harvest will come about a month after planting.

When the plant is young, it is ideal to pinch the leaves at the tip bud of the branch. Removing it this way excretes a hormone that creates a reaction in the other lateral buds at the base of each leaf.

Taking out a leaf by tipping opens up the other buds and shoots and they start growing and form new leaves. This will happen within a week of pinching off the leaves.

This will ensure that the plant stays small and bushy. Try not to pinch the tip below the point that you did last time.

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Harvesting the leaves

You can always just pinch off the leaves of basil as and when needed, but there is also a technique to follow if you want your plant to increase basil production.

Start from the top branches. Snip off the basil that you need just above the point where two leaves meet. Cut the stem right above the nodes.

Gradually, start harvesting one-third of the basil regularly. It delays the aging process and the tender leaves can be used for a variety of dishes.

Harvest evenly all around the plant so that the growth is balanced.

It is necessary to harvest regularly so that there is no flower growth on the plant and the plant lives longer and becomes bushier with abundant foliage.

Harvesting basil flowers

The first flower bud begins to make its presence when the plant is roughly 12 inches tall.

Starting at the budding tip, cut the stem up to the third or fourth set of shoots. You can harvest up to 30 percent of the foliage on the stems that have buds.

Different varieties of basil have different types of flowers. You can pinch off any of them using your fingers or herb snips.

Use the removed flowers as a garnish or dressing in your recipes.

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Harvesting the stems and pruning

To harvest the stems of the basil or while pruning, start from the top.

Harvesting the stems means that a larger part of the plant will be removed, so starting your way from the top will ensure that the shoots at the bottom can keep growing.

When you do your regular pruning every 3 to 4 weeks, try to harvest at least one-third of the plant’s height.

Use scissors to cut the stems easily.

Cut right above a leaf node: While removing a stem, cut as close as possible to the top of the leaf node. It is from this point that new shoots will grow.

If you cut more than 1 inch above the node, the plant will direct its energy to grow this specific stem instead of the smaller stubs.

This could restrict the growth of the plant. Cutting extremely close to the node divides the stem in two which branches out even further and creates a bushier plant.

Trim away the flower buds: If you want your plant to keep growing, you need to prune off the buds before they start flowering.

Once the plant flowers, it will stop growing and producing flowers. However, if you have harvested enough and are okay with letting your plant complete its natural cycle, then you can keep the pretty flowers.

If you have a large crop of basil outside, you can use a hand pruner to cut through the base about 3 inches above the ground.

Shake off the plant to get rid of any pests or dirt that may be lingering on it.

Why is my Basil bitter? How to fix it?

How to harvest basil at the end of the season?

Basil season ends right before winter starts. As the days grow colder, the stems of the basil become woody.

The leaves turn yellow and start wilting and fall off. Too much cold can also turn the leaves black.

You need to harvest your basil before the plants start to die from the cold.

For harvesting at the end of the season, cut down the plant and harvest everything, because the basil is an annual plant and will not last in the winter.

Just cut off the stems from where they are planted and pick off all the leaves and store them properly. Use the stems to make compost.

Benefits of Harvesting Basil

Basil has immense health benefits. It is rich in many vitamins and minerals. Basil is an antioxidant that contains polyphenolic flavonoids, compounds that fight the effects of aging.

Basil also stimulates a good blood flow, keeps eyesight healthy, and it has anti-inflammatory properties.

Besides these internal uses, the essential oils found in basil are extracted to treat acne, scars, wounds, and skin infections. It can be incorporated into your healthcare routine.

Apart from that, basil is used in a number of different recipes all over the world.

Harvesting basil is beneficial for the plant as well. Regular pruning helps the plant grow better and bushier.

Pruning off the flower buds before they grow helps in prolonging the life of the basil.

Basil is one of the most powerful super-foods and one of the easiest herbs to grow, harvest, and use, and therefore a good investment in your herb garden.