How To Harvest Basil Without Killing The Plant? (My Best Tips)

Basil is a wonderfully smelling edible herb that belongs to the mint family. It usually contains lush green leaves and is used in a huge range of cuisines worldwide.

Basil leaves are also known to offer many health benefits. They are a great natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory; they can help detoxify the body, help fight depression, and promote a healthy gut.

Then there are a diverse number of recipes to which they can be added. Pasta, pesto, soups, salads and pizzas, to name a few. Knowing how to harvest basil without killing the plant effectively is the one skill in the kitchen that you want to make sure that you master.

Pruning the wrong way can cause major issues and sometimes even kill the plant if not done properly. Let’s take a deep dive into the process of how to harvest basil without killing the plant, shall we?

How To Harvest Basil Without Killing The Plant?
How To Harvest Basil Without Killing The Plant?

What is Basil?

Basil is an extremely tasty herb native to Central Africa and Southeast Asia. Although, almost every country in the world has adopted it into their food regime in some capacity.

Its leaves are used in these dishes in a wide range of cuisines. It can grow between 1 and 5 feet ( 30-150cm), and Basil grows bushy upward and outways from a thick central stem.

Basil is a great plant for beginners as it can grow from seed to harvest in as little as 3-4 weeks. There are multiple other species of basil, such as thai basil, lemon basil and anise basil, to name a few of the more common variants. So you must know how to harvest basil without killing it.

What is Basil?
What is Basil?

Growing Conditions for Harvesting Basil

As mentioned, growing basil is one of the easier herbs to get up and going. But multiple conditions need to be satisfied to achieve optimal growth results with this plant gem. These include:

Growing Conditions for Harvesting Basil
Growing Conditions for Harvesting Basil

Weather Conditions

Basil likes growing in warmer temperatures between 80-90 °F (27-32 °C). It thrives with around 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. It will begin to wilt if left to stand in dry conditions.

Anywhere under 40°F (4.5°C) and the plant will start to suffer from minor chills. At 32°F (0°C) and lower, the bigger issues start to accumulate. The plant won’t die immediately, but consistent cold temperatures will make it extremely hard to revive from its weakened state.

Heat Exposure

Basil likes the warmth but cannot survive in the more brutal heat. Hot midday sun can become a bit too much for them, so it’s a good idea to allow them access to shade once that sun peaks. Alternatively, keep it indoors where the heat can be regulated better. 

Soil Preparations

Basil likes to be grown in warm, moist soil that is well drained. It should not be flooded, but a decent amount of dampness is great for a growing basil plant. A neutral pH level (6.0-7.0) in the soil is also optimal for this type of herb. Using organic matter such as compost is also a great additive to the soil content. Blood meal or cottonseed meal are also adequate alternatives. 

Watering Schedule

If your basil is potted, it will need water once a week every week until it establishes itself. In the warmer months, with little rain, you may need to increase the watering frequency to every 3-4 days. If the plant is already planted in the garden, it won’t need frequent watering.

Every couple of weeks is enough, adjusting to more frequently if the weather is dry. 


Spacing your basil around 12-16 inches apart will help airflow and allow sunlight. Each plant will need about 8 inches in depth to assist with strong root growth. Remember when choosing a growing container or when preparing a garden bed. 

When to Harvest Basil?

A basil plant is a bit of a tricky herb to get an estimate as to when it is ready to start harvesting. It’s a bushy plant, so it’s understandable to mistake this defining characteristic for readiness. As a rule of thumb, once the plant reaches around that 6-8 inch mark, the leaves will be mature enough to start enjoying.

When to Harvest Basil?
When to Harvest Basil?

The weather can help or hinder this process also. For example, colder weather will slow down the leafing process. Alternatively, temperatures above 80°F (27°C) will give it a bit of a boost in production. Once the plant has started to be harvested, it’s ideal for picking the leaves regularly to encourage more growth.

Harvesting the basil earlier in the day gives more juicer leaves, so keep that in mind if you’re aiming to produce something in the kitchen that requires extra gusto.

How to Harvest Basil Without Killing the Plant?

Learning how to harvest basil without killing isn’t rocket science, but it’s also not as simple as plucking leaves at will.

Especially if you want to harvest small quantities in comparison with larger quantities, there is a bit of an art to it, and we’ll look at it here, hopefully giving you the confidence needed to harvest your desired amount with relative ease.

How to Harvest Basil Without Killing the Plant?
How to Harvest Basil Without Killing the Plant?

Harvesting Basil in Small Quantities

The key to harvesting smaller amounts of basil is pretty much repetition. The aim is to not allow it to grow too tall as it will start to tilt over and collapse. Basil grows like crazy when manipulated outways. The correct way to harvest basil in small quantities is to:

  1. Locate areas of your basil plant that are visually sagging. 
  2. Locate nodes where the weight is beginning to become too much for the top of the plant. (nodes are thicker points on the stem where new growth is appearing – roots, stems or leaves)
  3. Take a clean pair of scissors and cut the stem above a node. This will give you a decent amount of leaves to use, allowing the node below to sprout again.
  4. Continue to locate areas to trim. Eventually, the plant will grow outwards as the nodes are cut regularly. 

Harvesting Basil in Large Quantities

Harvesting larger amounts of your basil plant require a different approach but with a similar result. The aim is still to encourage continual growth, but the areas are going to differ compared to minor harvests:

  1. Locate the tallest, most full stem.
  2. Trim from the top downwards. As low as required until you reach the lowest node.
  3. Cut above the lowest node to allow it to sprout in multiple directions during regrowth. 
  4. Continue with as many stems as required.
  5. The key is to always promote and encourage continual growth and regeneration.

The idea behind cutting a full stem as opposed to smaller nodal sections is that a full stem will have much more growth the whole way down. In comparison, clipping a few heads above nodes will be more for day-to-day cooking usage.

That is how to harvest basil without killing the plant itself.

How To Store Basil Correctly?

If you understand how to store basil correctly, it can last up to 2 weeks whilst keeping its flavor. Basil doesn’t last too long, although you can preserve it. If you want to store it fresh, you have a couple of choices which include:

How To Store Basil Correctly?
How To Store Basil Correctly?

Keep it in Water

One of the easiest ways to keep your basil fresh is to store it in a vase or jar as you would with a bouquet. You can have it sitting on your kitchen bench for convenient use. Simply:

  1.  Find some kind of container to store your harvest in. 
  2. Trim down your desired amount of basil, ensuring the stems are long enough to fit in the water container. Not too long, though, so they don’t touch the bottom. 
  3. Place the stems down carefully into the water container, ensuring that the leaves aren’t lying in the water as they will go slimy.
  4. Cover the whole water container, including the leaves, loosely with a plastic bag.

This method will keep your basil fresh on the kitchen counter for around 1-2 weeks at room temperature. Store it in a bright area with indirect light and away from heat.

Make use of a Refrigerator

Alternatively, you can store it in the refrigerator, although it’s not recommended. This method tends to wilt the leaves and make them turn brown much faster, but it still works if you want it to. 

  1. Wash them and allow them to dry completely, use a salad spinner if possible.
  2. Pack them into a food safe container as you would with other salad greens.

There’s not much to this method. A tip is to make sure to not wrap them in plastic. The leaves will change colors and go nasty due to the condensation that can build up inside the plastic covering. This approach will give you 2-3 days of extra life in your basil plant. 

How to Freeze Fresh Basil?

Another great storage method for basil is to freeze it. Like all herbs, basil will lose its potency via this process. In addition, being a delicate plant will make the leaves darken as they transform from solid to frozen and then back again once thawed out.

How to Freeze Fresh Basil?
How to Freeze Fresh Basil?

Simply fill some ice trays with chopped basil and pour over enough water to cover. Throw the trays in the freezer and play the waiting game. You can usually get about 5 months out of this method before the leaves lose almost all aroma and taste. 

Also, it’s possible to make basil cigars. This can be achieved by dipping whole stems of basil in boiling water for around 10 seconds. This will blanch them.

Gently pull the leaves off and stack them 5-6 leaves high. Roll them up like you would a cigar, ensuring they’re tightly packed. Then take some waxed/baking paper and roll the cigars up. Freeze the cigars in airtight, food safe containers. 

How to Dry Fresh Basil?

When it comes to storing herbs, one of the most reliable methods is to dry them out, and this will also help prolong their taste and potency. Thankfully, you can use a few simple processes to dry out your basil for later use. 

How to Dry Fresh Basil?
How to Dry Fresh Basil?

Air Drying

  1. Harvest your desired amount, leaving stems which are long enough to allow them to be hung. (3-4 inches)
  2. Wash the stems and leaves thoroughly and carefully so that the leaves don’t detach from the stems.
  3. Dry them out with some paper towels. Try to pad out any excess moisture.
  4. Tie some string to the bottom ends of the stems creating a bouquet, and hang them upside down in a cool, dry area.
  5. This process should take about 4-5 weeks but is well worth the time spent. Crumble it in your fingers and use it immediately in your favorite meal. Alternatively, you can fill a herb shaker with the dried basil for later use.

Microwave Drying

  1. Go through the same harvesting, washing and drying process again. This time, separate the leaves from the stems because you won’t be hanging them, so the stems are useless. 
  2. Carefully arrange the leaves on a plate between 2 doubled-up pieces of paper towel or 2 kitchen towels.
  3. Set your microwave to high and put the plate with leaves in.
  4. Microwave for 45 seconds.
  5. Microwave for 30 seconds.
  6. Microwave for 30 seconds.
  7. After the 3 bursts in the microwave, the leaves should look shriveled but also feel dry to the touch. 
  8. If they are still slightly damp, keep adding 10-second intervals to finish them off. Crumble with your fingers to use straight away or add it to a herb shaker for later use.

Oven Drying

  1. Harvest, wash, dry and separate the leaves from the stems.
  2. Set your oven to 170-180°F (75-80°C)
  3. Arrange the basil leaves on some baking/parchment paper.
  4. Bake for a minimum of an hour. Check on their crispness and leave for as long as it takes to be able to crumble them between your fingers.
  5. Use straight away or store.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Are Basil Flowers Edible?

The flowers of the basil plant are edible, and the flavor is generally similar to the leaves. They can also be a little bitter, depending on the plant’s maturity. They are a great salad garnish or for decorative purposes also.

What Grows Well With Basil?

Basil is an easy plant to grow, and when done so with companion plants, they can work together as a team to achieve some handy benefits. They can deter insect pests, attract beneficial insects, provide shade and ground cover, and improve soil nutrients. Some of the best companion plants for basil are:
☑️Chamomile, oregano, and chives.
☑️Root vegetables.

What Does It Mean When Basil Bolts?

The bolting of a plant is a method used to protect its survival. It will go to flower and shed seeds faster, which helps it to regenerate. Bolting is usually caused by excessive heat. There is a risk that the plant can die when bolting, so if you want to keep your stock, then it’s ideal for pruning out any flower heads that pop up. Also, keep trimming above the nodes regularly to encourage new leaf growth.

How long does a Basil plant last?

Depending on how optimized the growing conditions are for your basil, its lifespan can greatly vary in length. An indoor plant that doesn’t struggle against weather elements can continue to produce for upto 6 months.

On the other hand, an outdoor plant that competes with all the rigors of soil growth life, including heat, rain, wind, moisture, etc., may be able to produce for a solid 4-5 months. 

How to use Basil?

Basil can be used in a wide variety of culinary delights. It can be

☑️Blended into sauces.
☑️Pureed into soups.
☑️Whole leaves can be added to pizza.
☑️Pasta garnishes.
☑️Added to salads.
☑️Infused into oils.
☑️Used for a pesto base.

Creativity is the key!


Basil not only smells amazing, but it tastes amazing also! It’s such a versatile herb, and the beauty is that it is such a simple herb to grow and maintain. It’s a great plant for beginners to get their hands dirty. Not only that, it is a tough one to kill.

Knowing how to harvest basil without killing it doesn’t have to be a hard task as long as you have the right guide and technique. We hope this article has helped you harvest your basil plant without killing it! See you at the next one. 

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