Herb Help - Basil

Basil is a low maintenance herb. It is often grown as an annual but if you live in a cooler climate, you can easily keep your basil growing indoors in a container over the winter months.

Basil leaves can be used as a seasoning herb in many vegetable and meat dishes, or as a key ingredient of pesto and condiments.

Basil can get about two feet high and spread about two feet. It begins getting beautiful, fragrant flowers around June and will bloom until frost.

Basil is easy to maintain

Basil needs full sun, a medium amount of water and well-drained soil. To encourage your basil to get bushy, simply pinch out the centers as the blooms appear. When you pinch flowers stems or leaves off your basil, the plant responds by converting pairs of leaflets next to the topmost leaves into new stems. I usually pinch back stems and/or flowers every three to four weeks. In the fall, before bringing my basil in for the winter, I will harvest my basil and freeze some.

When a stem starts producing flowers, foliage production stops on that stem, the stem will become woody. At this point, essential oil production declines. Simply pinch off any flower stems. You may choose to pinch off all flowering stems or leave some for decorations or for seed production.

Once the plant is allowed to flower, it may produce seed pods containing small black seeds, which can be saved and planted the following year. Picking the leaves off the plant helps "promote growth", largely because the plant responds by converting pairs of leaflets next to the topmost leaves into new stems.

If you decide to keep your basil in containers, check the soil moisture daily. Container grown plants tend to dry out fast. During the hottest, driest part of the summer I often check and water lightly twice a day.

If your basil is not grown in containers and you wish to bring some in for winter, you can easily root cuttings in water and pot for winter use. Simply suspend short cuttings for about two weeks in water until roots develop, then repot in your container.

Basil makes it easy to fix mistakes

If its leaves have wilted, it will usually recover if watered thoroughly and placed in a sunny location. Yellow leaves towards the bottom of the plant usually means that it needs either less water, or you need to adjust the amount of fertilizer (if you haven’t fertilized, you should and if you have fertilized, you probably gave it too much). 

Potential Problems with Basil

Basil is sensitive to frost. Bring your potted basil inside if there is a chance of frost.

Japanese beetles like basil. To control Japanese Beetles, pick them off by hand.

Gray Mold can affect basil plants after they have been harvested. Gray mold enters through the cut stems and causes leaves to die and fall off. If the disease is allowed to move to the main stalk, the plant will die. To prevent gray mold, do not harvest on rainy days and do not water overhead for at least 48 hours after harvest. Use rubbing alcohol on your pruning scissors between each cut to prevent the spread of the disease.

Downy Mildew can attack basil during wet, humid conditions. The leaves of your basil will turn yellow or brown and a fuzzy, gray growth will appear on the underside of the leaves. To help prevent Downy Mildew, avoid overhead watering and space your basil plants at least two feet apart to improve the air flow around the plants. Choose a fungicide labeled to fight basil downy mildew.

Harvesting Basil

Anytime is a good time to pick a leaf or two for cooking. The best time for a big harvest is just before the basil blooms.

You can learn how to harvest and how to preserve basil in my article:
Harvesting Herbs 

Preserving Basil

I like to freeze a lot of my basil. I simply chopped the fresh basil coarsely and drop it into an ice cube tray. Then I add water to fill the tray. It makes it so easy to add to soups or stews.

I dry some basil. I use my oven set to 150ยบ.

You can learn more ways to preserve basil in my past article:
Preserving Herbs The Easy Way

Using Basil in Cooking

Basil leaves are commonly used fresh in cooking. Basil is considered a “soft” herb. It needs to be added at the last moment, as cooking will quickly destroy the flavor. Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto.

The leaves are not the only part of basil used in culinary applications, the flower buds have a more subtle flavor and they are edible.

Other Uses For Basil

Note: Some herbs can react with certain medications. You should consult your doctor before consumption of any herb.

In ancient times, pots of basil on a sunny windowsill were used to deter flies.

Try steeping a few leaves in wine for several hours for a great glass of wine. Or steep in water as a tea to help with digestion.

The plant is often used to treat problems with digestion and the nervous system. Fresh leaves are used to help with fevers, abdominal cramps, gastro-enteritis, constipation, nausea and poor digestion.

Tea prepared from the leaves is considered to obviate mild nervous tension, headaches, sore throats and nausea.

Chewing a basil leaf daily can protect against stress, ulcers and can help reduce blood cholesterol.

You can also try this quick drinkable treat:
1 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. honey
2 tsp. basil seeds (note - this calls for basil seeds)
1 cup of warm water.
 Allow the mixture to stand for at least 2 minutes. You will have a thick treat that you may want to drink using a straw.

Or, make Basil Syrup
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of water
1/2 cup of washed basil leaves
Bring all ingredients to a simmer in a small pan on medium heat. Stir occasionally until sugar dissolves. Let cool, then strain into a glass jar. This will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.
Try adding a little syrup to iced tea or lemonade (instead of sugar).
Try drizzling some over your fresh fruit.


Basil is one of my favorte herbs. Try it!


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