Basil Plants: How To Grow, Harvest & Use Them

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Growing your own basil is cost-effective, convenient, and easy! From planting your seeds to harvesting your crop, here’s everything you need to know about growing and using aromatic and delicious basil plants.

fresh green basil growing in a white container with cherry tomatoes on wooden table.

There’s no doubt about it. When it comes to my favorite herbs, basil and mint top the list. Both are delicious, versatile, easy to grow, and – as it turns out – part of the same family.

I knew there was a reason I love them both!

When it comes to basil, I love the way it looks, smells, and tastes. Yep, pretty much everything about this herb is a hit with me. In fact, for as long as I can remember, I’ve been adding a (more than) generous amount of basil to any tomato dishes that I cook. Tomatoes and basil are just meant to go together, right?

However, as it turns out, there’s so much MORE you can do with basil plants than adding a heap to your spaghetti. Let’s take a deep dive into this popular herb and discover not only how to care for it but also the many different ways to use your bumper crop of fresh basil.

Note: If you love herbs, be sure to read up on rosemary plants, and thyme plants, too! Or check out all our herb-growing posts.

Basil Plants: A Brief History

Part of the Lamiaceae family, basil is in good company with many other delicious herbs including mint, rosemary, lavender, and even sage.

It’s been cultivated for around 5,000 years and is thought to have originated in India. However, ancient records from around 800 A.D. also indicate that basil was used in China at that time. Although it originated in warm climates, once people discovered that it could be grown indoors, the use of basil quickly began spreading to all corners of the globe.

Now it’s used worldwide in many different ways – let’s check out a few of them.

Benefits of Basil

In addition to tasting amazing, this useful herb is also highly nutritious, boasting many vitamins and minerals for great overall health. It delivers a powerful amount of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin K as well as iron, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

Here are a few non-culinary benefits that basil provides.

  • To relieve stomach upset
  • As a natural muscle relaxant
  • Alleviates headaches
  • Reduces stress
  • Enhances cognitive function
  • Can soothe insect bites
  • Acts as an antiseptic and can help clear away acne
  • Use basil-infused oil to soothe sore muscles
  • Good antioxidants
  • Use as an anti-inflammatory to help with diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol

Fun Facts About Basil Plants

I love learning fun tidbits about different plants! It helps improve my gardening skills and allows me to make the most use of my harvest. Here are a few fun facts about basil plants:

  • You can use fresh basil whole or chopped up. Discard thick stems due to their bitter flavor.
  • Basil can lose flavor in the cooking process, so add it at the end for the most intense flavor.
  • Basil can be used fresh or dried, but fresh is usually preferred in cooking. Dried basil doesn’t have quite the same flavor and is also more concentrated. When cooking with dried basil, use ⅓ the amount you would use of fresh basil.
  • You can grow basil from seeds or plant cuttings. If you want to make cuttings, all you have to do is cut off a stem of the plant and put it in water until new roots appear. Then, plant it in dirt and let it go.

Growing Basil Plants: Everything You Need To Know For Success

Basil is a warm-weather plant that is sensitive to cold but grows quickly in temperatures of 80-90 degrees. It’s an annual herb in many climates, but it can grow as a perennial in very warm areas. 

As a plant, basil is a lovely and aromatic green herb. It has large, oblong, shiny leaves that have a slightly bumpy texture thanks to the veins running through them. You’ll also see lovely delicate white blooms in the summer.

Basil is an easy herb to grow, so it’s perfect for anyone to grow and harvest – even beginner gardeners and brown thumbs! Here’s what this plant needs to thrive.

Young shoots of basil in a ceramic terracotta pot on a summer sunny day, close-up macro shot, top view

Growing Needs Of Basil Plants

When to plant: Start seeds indoors about 6 weeks before the last expected frost. Or, plant directly into the ground once nighttime temperatures stay above 50 degrees.

  • Light: Full sun in slightly cooler climates to part shade in very warm climates.
  • Soil: Fertile, well-draining soil.
  • Fertilizing: Not usually needed, but if you think your plant needs it, use basic plant food.
  • Watering: Keep soil moist but not soggy. Basil won’t do well when its soil dries out.
  • Spacing: Space plants 10-12 inches apart. 

Ideal Growing Locations

Basil is pretty fuss-free, which I love. As long as it has sun, water, and warm temperatures, it’s usually happy and thriving.

Try growing basil:

  • As an indoor herb – if you want to grow basil all year long, you’ll need to grow it indoors.
  • Raised garden beds.
  • In containers
  • With your tomatoes – not only do tomatoes and basil taste great together in recipes, but they make terrific companion plants and enhance each of their natural flavors!
growing basil in pot on windowsill.

Keeping Basil Plants Healthy

Here are a few things to keep in mind when growing basil plants so they stay healthy and happy.

Harmful Insects

Aphids are the biggest indoor basil plant nuisance. For outdoor plants, keep an eye out for Japanese beetles and slugs.

To get rid of any of these pests, mix 2 teaspoons of dish soap into a gallon of water and pour this solution all over your basil plants.

Fungal Diseases

Basil plants can fall victim to powdery mildew which is a white fuzzy dusting on the leaves. It’s caused by poor air circulation, so make sure there’s plenty of space between your basil plants so the air can move freely.

Other issues can include:

  • Gray mold
  • Fusarium wilt
  • Black spot

Harvesting Basil

Harvesting your basil to use is almost a no-brainer! Simply pick as you go!

Starting once your plant is 6-8 inches tall, you can simply pick off small amounts of leaves to add directly to your recipes.

If you want to harvest a larger amount of your basil plant but want it to continue growing and producing leaves, you can cut up to ⅔ of the plant at a time.

Harvest leaves regularly (even if you don’t use them – just store them for later!) to encourage new growth all season long. If you see flower buds starting to form, pinch them off to encourage the plant to put its energy into leaf production. 

Finally, harvest your leaves in the morning when they are the juiciest!

Fresh basil drying against a wooden background.

Storing And Preserving Basil

As an herb, basil is best enjoyed fresh. However, you can dry it or freeze it to store and enjoy it all year long.

When storing fresh basil leaves, rinse off your leaves and layer them in damp paper towels. Then put them in a container or a bag in the fridge for up to 4 days. If you have basil stems, put them in a cup or jar of water in the fridge and they’ll last for up to 7 days.

If you want to dry your leaves, pinch them off their stems then place them in a well-ventilated, shady area for 3-4 days. Another option is to use your dehydrator on the lowest setting. 

Freezing your basil leaves is another good way to preserve your fresh basil all year long. Wash your leaves, remove them from the stems, and flash freeze them. Then, put them into a freezer bag and store them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them. Add a little more than what your recipe calls for because the leaves will lose a little flavor due to the freezing process.

Dried basil on an antique golden spoon against a bright white background.

Ways To Use Basil Plants 

Basil is extremely versatile and beneficial. Here are a few ideas of ways to use your fresh basil plants. There are several popular basil varieties that add a special taste to cooking dishes from lemon, greek, cinnamon, and sweet just to name a few.

In Cooking

Using basil as an herb in food and drinks is one of the most common uses for this aromatic herb. Although it’s native to India, it’s a staple in Italian cuisine (as well as many others). Add basil to:

  • Ice cream topping or in sorbets
  • Beverages (such as infused water, lemonade, smoothies, teas, and cocktails)
  • Pesto – enough said!
  • Infused honey
  • Appetizers
  • Italian dressing
  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Salsa
  • Sauces
  • Spice blends
  • Garnish
  • And more!

Spaghetti pasta with tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil in plate on white wooden background. Selective focus.

DIY Bath And Beauty Products

Basil can be added to many DIY body care products such as:

  • Face and body creams
  • Lip balms
  • Shampoos and hair rinses
  • Lotions
  • Face masks
  • Sugar scrubs
  • Toners

I hope that after reading this post, you realize that basil is not only easy to grow but offers many different uses and benefits. If you love this fragrant herb, you can now enjoy basil plants in many new additional ways too!

Close up woman's hand picking leaves of basil greenery. Home gardening on kitchen. Pots of herbs with basil, parsley and thyme. Home planting and food growing. Sustainable lifestyle, plant-based foods

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