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How to Harvest and Use Fresh Basil from Your Garden

By: Julie Day

If you planted basil in your garden and all has gone according to plan, by midsummer you’ll have lots of fresh basil luring you with its minty aroma and threatening to go to seed any minute. As a shameless basil addict, I think this is a moment of pure heaven! However, if you were ambitious in your planting, you may be wondering what on earth you’re going to do with all this goodness.

Here are some tips for harvesting, using, and preserving the fresh basil from your garden.

How to Harvest Basil

You can pick basil leaves as needed at any time – in fact, harvesting encourages the plant to produce more leaves. Morning is the best time of day, but don’t hesitate to pick basil whenever you need it. For best results:

  • Harvesting Small Amounts: Pick a few leaves off each plant, rather than cutting off a whole stem. While you’re picking, periodically pinch off the branch tips, to encourage the plant to fill out. Also, remove any flower buds and either discard or use as a garnish.
  • Harvesting Larger Amounts: Harvest the leaves from the top down, cutting back up to a third of the total plant height. Be sure to cut or pinch right above a leaf pair rather than leaving a stub. In a few weeks, your basil plants will be ready to harvest again.
  • Final Harvest: At the end of the season (before the first frost), cut the stems to the ground and pick off all the leaves. Add the stems to the compost pile, and bring the leaves indoors for an afternoon of cooking and preserving.

How to Use Basil

Your first task is to remove the leaves from the stems, discard any dead or spotted leaves, rinse the basil thoroughly, and allow it to air dry (or pat dry with a towel). What to do with all this wonderful basil? The very writing of this article has me craving Chilled Linguine with Gorgonzola and Basil (from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook), but there’s no end to yummy ways to use this herb:

Fresh Basil:

Add fresh, chopped basil leaves to:


              Add basil to pasta.

  • Salad greens
  • Dressings
  • Sandwiches and wraps
  • Vinegars
  • Oils
  • Bread dough
  • Soups
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Sauces
  • Pasta
  • Marinades

Basil Tea:

Basil is a member of the mint family, and basil tea can be served after meals as a digestive aid. To make fresh basil tea:

  • Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tablespoons of fresh, chopped basil.
  • Steep for 5 minutes.
  • Sweeten with raw honey to taste.


          Basil freezes well.

A variety of basil known as Tulsi (or Holy Basil) is considered a sacred and healing herb in India, and Tulsi tea is a popular stress-relieving and health-promoting tonic.

Basil Fragrance:

You can also add dried basil to potpourri, sachets, and homemade cleaning products to give a fresh, clean scent.

How to Preserve Basil

To store Basil for later use:

Frozen Basil:

Freeze the fresh leaves by packing them tightly in an airtight container or plastic bag. Simply break off chunks as needed for garden-fresh flavor in recipes. You can also freeze basil and water in ice cubes for dropping into soups.

Dried Basil:


    Store basil in an airtight jar.

Dry basil by hanging stems in bunches, or spreading leaves out on a tray, in a dark, well-ventilated room. Once the leaves are good and dry (about a week), you can crumble them into an airtight container.

Cooked in Recipes:

Nothing makes me happier than a winters’ worth of pesto sauce, neatly stacked in the freezer. And if you also have too many tomatoes and garlic, then you’re really in business! Spend an afternoon making marinara, stewed tomatoes,
and soups for freezing or canning.

Further Information

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