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How to Harvest Basil & Keep It Fresh

Dried basil should be illegal. It has no flavor. It has no texture. And it is a very sad substitute for fresh basil, which is so tasty and easy to grow! A single basil plant can yield 12 or more cups of leaves in a single season. So what’s the secret to getting the most out of your basil? Eat a lot of it! The more your harvest the more your plants will produce!

Pinch Right Above the Little Leaves

When harvesting basil, it’s best to pinch off a piece of the stem rather than just snipping off a leaf or two. Before you make your pinch, take a close look at your basil plant. Basil leaves grow in sets of two and the leaves are positioned exactly opposite from each other on the stem. If you examine the point where the leaves meet the stem, you should see two sets of tiny leaves growing out of the junction. When you’re harvesting, it’s important to make your pinch directly above a set of leaves. Why? By taking off the lead stem, you send a signal to the tiny leaves that it is time for them to grow into branches.

Keep Fresh Basil in Water

After you’ve harvested your basil, don’t stick in the fridge. The leaves quickly turn black and slimy when refrigerated and lose their signature spicy sweet flavor. To keep my basil fresh, I put it into a short, stout vase of water and keep it out of direct sunlight. The basil tends to droop at first, but after about 12 hours it perks right up. I change the water every other day and use the leaves as I need them. I like to keep the vase on my desk, because it makes my whole office smell like basil!

The basil will stay fresh in the jar for a week or more. In fact, if you leave the stems in water they will eventually root and you can replant them in a pot or out in the garden!

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16 Responses to “How to Harvest Basil & Keep It Fresh”

  1. 1
    Homegrown » Blog Archive » Growing, harvesting and storing fresh basil Says:

    [...] DigginFood blog [...]

  2. 2
    marguerite Says:

    I was heading down the coast to our beach house and noticed my basil needed picking. I picked off all the tops and put them in a plastic bag leaving it oven so they could vent, but still keep moisture inside. I had alot and used some each day. Do you know by the end of the week what was left in the back looked like I had just picked it. It was never in the fridge and never in water, just lightly moist. I put the basil in salads in pasta, but when I asked the kids if I should put it in pancakes they thought I was crazy!

  3. 3
    Paul Feenan Says:

    Here at Barnyard gardens we grow greenhouse basil and have a lot of extra laying around. We have had good luck drying our extra basil here and there We simply put it in a large paper shopping bag in a dry but not too hot of a spot (not too much in a bag at once). We fold the top of the bag shut and once a day (or so) we open it up and give the bag a shake and rustle the basil about. The dried basil has an intense fresh flavor for our pasta dishes in the winter. We don’t do a ton like this because we process quite a bit of basil in oil and freeze it but once in a while that dried basil is convenient and we find this method results in flavor worth doing! I have had similar luck doing this in a cardboard box but the shopping bag seems to be more convenient.

  4. 4
    Willi Says:

    I’ll have to try your method for drying basil. I’ve only tried store bought dried basil and have always been so disappointed with its flavor. Thanks so much for the tips on keeping basil fresh and drying it!

  5. 5
    LadyJayPee Says:

    Your basil looks so nice & lush! Lately, I have been harvesting mine, placing it in a Rubbermaid-type container, & freezing the leaves whole. The basil stays green. When I want to add it to a recipe, I take out the amount I want to use and literally crumble the frozen leaves into my dish.

  6. 6
    AlexM Says:


  7. 7
    Chiara Says:

    Great tips! I just planted my first small patch of basil, so I can’t wait to put all these suggestions into action. In terms of watering, is once a day in warm-weather climates a good amount? And is there a better time to water? Mid-day? Late afternoon? After the sun has set? So much to learn!

  8. 8
    Willi Says:

    Chiara–If your basil is in a container then you’ll need to check on its water twice a day. If it’s in the ground, it is best to water it deeply (soaking the soil to about 8 inches) and then wait for the soil to dry down. You’ll know that you should water when you stick your finger into the soil and it is dry down to your second knuckle. It’s best to water in the morning. That way you don’t lose much water to evaporation and if you accidentally get the foliage wet, it will soon dry out when the sun warms up. Good luck with your basil! I hope you get a big harvest.

  9. 9
    Laura Says:

    Thank you so much for your post! Very helpful! I have a lot of basil growing in my garden for the first time and had no idea what to do with it.

  10. 10
    Basil: Growing, Harvesting, and Avoiding Downy Mildew « Homestead Gardens Says:

    [...] Sources: Willi Galloway, Gardenweb, and Digging in Food. [...]

  11. 11
    Basil: Growing, Harvesting, and Avoiding Downy Mildew : Homestead Gardens Says:

    [...] Sources: Willi Galloway, Gardenweb, and Digging in Food. [...]

  12. 12
    Geniene Says:

    I do the same with my cilantro bought from the store (clip the ends first and place in water), however, since I don’t usually use it all fast enough, I keep the whole vase of cilantro in the fridge… not sure if it would work well with basil.

  13. 13
    My Blog’s Anniversary with CSA | Veggie Angie Says:

    [...] ingredients. I wasn’t sure how to keep the basil, so I searched online and found a good recommendation. Our friends Karl and Frances keep their fresh basil in a jar with water and a plastic bag over [...]

  14. 14
    New to Kansas Says:

    I love fresh basil and have grown it to make pesto the past two summers. I am interested in trying to keep some for the winter and will be trying the paper sack idea, hope it works. We love the fresh basil on pizza and in pasta dishes. Be sure not to put it on your pizza until the pizza is totally baked and out of the oven. I tried putting on top of the cheese and it burns easily. So now I just add whole leaves after the pizza is ready to come out of the oven. It’s fabulous with chicken, mozzarella and garlic. Thanks for your site!

  15. 15
    Quora Says:

    What is the proper way to pick basil leaves off of a basil plan to ensure it will continue to grow?… has good advice [1]: > One of the most important roles in growing a superb batch of basil is the harvesting of the basil plants. This is what is going to help you to grow your plant to the maximum height and provide the bushiest plant po…

  16. 16
    Kerrie Says:

    I buy “fresh” basil and it looks plump and healthy then I bring it home, trim the bottom of the stems, put it in a jar with water and it droops! Even some leaves discolour – what am I doing wrong or is the basil not so fresh as I thought?

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