How to Harvest Basil for Healthier, Bushier Plants

Different kinds of freshly harvested basil are arranged in piles on concrete
Harvest At-A-Glance
Harvesting basil on a regular basis encourages plants to grow fuller and bushier. Here's how to do it the right way.

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One of the number one questions we get about growing basil (and really any herb) is how do you get those big, beautiful, bushy plants that you see in seed catalogs and on Instagram? The way to those healthy plants is simple (and delicious)—harvest frequently!

It might seem counterintuitive, but the more you cut off a basil plant, the more it grows. Let us show you the best way to harvest basil so you get more leaves and a healthier plant.

Bushy genovese basil plants grow in a raised bed

Can you harvest basil too early?

Not really! Once the leaves are big enough to use, you can start harvesting! In fact, the more often you harvest your basil, the bigger and bushier your basil plants will get. We do recommend giving basil seedlings a few days to acclimate to their new home after you have transplanted them before harvesting heavily (although grabbing a leaf or two should be fine).

How do you harvest basil so it keeps growing?

The great thing about basil is that not only will it keep growing after harvest, but it will also grow back bigger, stronger, and healthier! Make sure when harvesting that you don’t cut more than half the plant off, and try to snip stems near the leaf nodes—the place where the leaves connect to the stem—but other than that, harvest and enjoy your basil all season long!

You can use small snips or scissors to harvest, or just a sturdy hand to snap off a stem of basil.

Gif of a hand harvesting the top of a basil plant

We harvest the new growth off of our basil plants every 7-10 days—pruning off the top 2-3 sets of leaves on each stem. Soon, you’ll have side shoots that grow from where you harvested before, and this is what helps make the plants bushy and robust.

Will basil grow back after cutting?

Yes, especially if you are only pinching off as much as you need at a time—this will encourage more robust growth and fuller basil plants. If you need a lot of basil at one time, leave at least 50% of the plant behind so that it can grow back.

Growfully Protip

These harvesting tips apply to all kinds of basil—sweet basil, Genovese basil, lemon basil, cinnamon basil, Thai basil, purple basil, holy basil—harvest away!

A pile of freshly harvested purple and green basil leaves

How often should you harvest basil?

Most families can get by with harvesting from one or two basil plants as often as they need it for regular at-home cooking. If you want to get into a regular schedule of harvesting, try to clip or pinch off the top of each stem every 7-10 days in the summer.

How many times can you harvest basil?

You can harvest basil as often as you want during the growing season, as long as you have basil left!

Will my basil plants come back every year?

Sorry, but basil is an annual herb, so you’ll need to replant this one every year.

Harvested green and purple basil lays on wooden boards

Can I eat the stems?

Sure can! The larger, older stems tend to get woody and too tough to use, but you can chop or process tender shoots and new stems the same way you would the leaves.

Can you harvest basil after flowering?

Sure. Once a basil plant starts to produce flower buds, it begins to divert its energy into the flowers and producing seeds and less so into leaf production—so don’t be surprised if leaves are small, pale in color, or lacking flavor, but it is perfectly safe and edible to keep harvesting during flowering.

Growfully Protip

Regularly harvesting your basil also prevents it from flowering.

Can you harvest basil seeds?

Once your basil plant has completed its life cycle and has set seeds, you can collect those seeds and store them for next year’s crop. Just be aware that the small seeds of basil self-seed very easily in the garden.

Three basil plants grow in the garden

How do you use and store basil?

We store basil like a flower bouquet! We harvest entire stems, and then pinch off the bottom sets of leaves from the stems (for use immediately), and then keep the stems in a glass jar full of water on the counter. We swap out the water every 2-3 days, and this keeps our basil fresh for 7-10 days.

Can I freeze basil? What about drying?

You can do both, but we strongly recommend freezing over drying. Dried basil loses most of its flavor during the drying process. Give basil a whirl in your food processor, and then freeze it as pesto or as herb cubes in ice cube trays. Basil cubes will give you a lot more flavor and they are so easy to use in all kinds of sauces, soups, pastas, and other dishes!

If you do want to dry basil, you can do so using a food dehydrator or on herb drying racks or trays. Just make sure to use low temperatures to try to preserve as much of the herb’s taste and fragrance as possible

What are some good basil recipes?

Fresh basil leaves are a gift of summer, and it’s not hard to find hundreds of ways to use them in your kitchen. Here are a few of our favorites:

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Cassie is a Certified Master Gardener and the founder of Growfully. She's been gardening organically for over two decades, and she's so excited to answer all the questions you have about gardening!

Leave a Reply

2 Responses
  1. Jan

    Not very helpful. Still not sure what is the best way to harvest. “We harvest the new growth off of our basil plants every 7-10 days—pruning off the top 2-3 sets of leaves on each stem.” and “try to snip stems near the leaf nodes” seem to be contradictive and how do you put the top 2-3 sets of leaves in water? There is not enough stem. Wouldnt the top 2-3 sets of leaves give you 4 to 6 small leaves of basil? And one last thing, those images that move and show the same unhelpful thing at high speed and are impossible to stop, are irritating enough to make me leave the article. I will just keep doing it the way I have been.

    1. Cassie Johnston

      Yes, you want to prune off the top sets of leaves just above the nodes—so you can just pinch off the top set at the first node, or you can move down the stem an additional node or two and clip there, giving you the top 2-3 sets of leaves.

      And you’re correct, you don’t store the top sets of leaves in water—that is if you harvest a large amount of basil that you aren’t using immediately.

Meet Cassie
Meet Your Guide

Hi! My name is Cassie.

I’m a Certified Master Gardener and founder of Growfully. I’ve been gardening organically for over two decades, and I’m so excited to answer all the questions you have about gardening!

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