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How to Harvest Basil Seeds: Everything You Need to Know

Lovely and healthy basil plant producing small flower buds

Harvesting Basil Seeds

If you’ve read all of our other articles about caring for basil – whether it be identifying dying basil, dealing with bolting basil, browning basil, growing basil indoors, keeping away basil pests, or dealing with overwatered basil, and when to harvest basil leaves – you’re probably an expert by now.

So you’ve already grown your basil, you’ve harvested its delicious foliage, and now your plant has gone to flower. If this is your first time growing this wonderful herb, you may not know exactly how to use those tiny black seeds to your advantage!

This article is going to go through all that you need to know about harvesting basil seeds: when to do, how to do it, how to store them, and how to plant basil seeds again the following early spring! So grab a pen and paper and start taking notes.

How do you Know the Right Time to Harvest Basil?

Love bolted basil flowers in the garden

Something you probably have learned about caring for basil is actually preventing your basil plant from flowering. This is because once a basil plant produces flower buds, this indicates that it is the end of its life cycle and it will perish soon after.

Gardeners will continuously prune their basil plants to prevent those little white basil flower buds from appearing, but eventually it deserves its time to rest. Once the growing season ends, you can just let your plant produce its basil flower and go to bolt.

Bolting basil means that the plant will concentrate all of its energy towards producing flowers and seeds instead of growing new leaves. When this happens, the leaves will start to decrease in quality of flavor and fragrance, so harvest as many as you can!

From here, a basil flower will start to produce tall stem-like plant parts that contain the basil seed pods. Once the seed pods develop, you can then begin to start harvesting basil seeds!

Hot tip: there are tons of different varieties of basil out there, so keep your different basil varieties separate in the herb garden so that they don’t cross pollinate.

Different pollinators can bring pollen from different plants, effectively ending the line of a specific type of basil. If you’re intent on keeping these varieties separate, plant basil at least 30 feet apart from one another.

How do you Harvest Basil Seeds?

There are a few different ways that you can harvest basil seeds, but all of them involve collecting those spent flower heads. Simply cut away those brown flower heads and first let them dry out in a warm and dry place for a few days.

Basil seeds are very small and black, they kind of look like black sesame seeds. You can crush the seed heads over a colander (with very small holes) and shake it out over a pan to catch each basil seed.

You can also be a bit more messy with it and place all of the dried flowers in a paper bag and shake it around until all of the flowers and seed heads are broken apart. You can then dump out the plant parts and pick away the larger petals and stems until just the seeds are left.

Other gardeners will also just let the plants go to seed and let them spread as they may throughout the garden, or they will immediately take those snipped spent flowers and crush them in the areas they’d like to plants to sprout the following season.

Tiny basil seedlings growing in little pots

How do you Store Basil Seeds?

Once you have all of those harvested basil seeds, you’ll have to store them over the winter! If stored properly, basil seeds can actually keep for over 5 years in your pantry or cellar! That way you can choose whenever you want to plant them again.

The first step is to take your harvested basil seeds and put them in either a sealable plastic bag or a glass jar with a tight lid. Then place the bag or jar in the freezer for a couple of days. This ensures that all bacteria and pests are killed before storing them away for good.

Keep your basil seeds in an airtight container and keep it in a place that is dry and preferably rather dark. A pantry or cellar is the perfect place to store basil, as elements like humidity or light can cause them to either germinate or spoil.

Label your different varieties according to different containers, that way you will have them on hand for whenever you decide to plant seeds the following spring!

How do you Plant Basil Seeds?

You’ll know that it’s time to bring those basil seeds out of storage once the last threat of frost has passed in the early spring. You can start your basil seedlings indoors, 4-6 weeks prior to the last frost date, or sow seed directly outdoors.

If starting basil seedlings indoors, make sure to add a light dusting of soil to the tops of the seeds as they need sunlight in order to germinate. From here, maintain soil moisture and warm temperatures as the seeds get established. Seedlings will be ready to be transplanted once 2 sets of true leaves are on the stems.

Remember to pick a spot on your property that receives full sun in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon. Soil should be amended with compost to ensure high nutrients and proper drainage. From here, maintain soil moisture and you’ll be harvesting basil leaves in no time!

What are some Popular Basil Varieties?

Green basil and purple basil growing in rows in the garden

Sweet Basil (Ocimum Basilicum) – sweet basil, otherwise know as common basil, is one of the most popularly grown and used culinary herbs around the world.

Sweet basil has beautiful fresh basil leaves of bright green and the plant grows to be anywhere from 8-20 inches tall. It has a sweet and slightly spicy flavor to it, and a fragrance just as nice.

Sweet basil can be used either fresh or as dried basil to keep in the pantry. It’s perfect to garnish both savory and sweet dishes, or can be used to flavor soups, stews, and pastas.

Lemon Basil (Ocimum x Africanum) – lemon basil is a superbly popular herb that is often grown throughout Northeastern Africa and Asia. It is a hybrid between sweet basil and American basil.

Lemon basil differs from other varieties in that it has more narrow leaves with serrated edges, and both the flavor and fragrance have a nice citrusy edge to them.

Purple Basil (Ocimum Basilicum ‘Osmin’) – purple basil is a lesser known garnish, but it is just as special. Some people may veer away from it because of its intense color, but its flavor is just as appealing as common basil.

Purple basil is a basil variety that is known for having dark purple leaves that are quite a bit smaller than other varieties. It is often used as a fresh garnish but it is also used as dried basil.

Genovese Basil (Ocimum Basilicum ‘Baxaico’) – Genovese basil is the basil variety you should use if you’re looking to make pesto or Caprese salad. It is also grown as a medicinal herb!

Genovese basil is a vigorous grower with bright green fresh basil leaves that can grow to be over 3 inches in length! The plant itself grows to be 2-3 feet tall and is a high producer of leaves.

Holy Basil (Ocimum Tenuiflorum) – holy basil, also known as the tulsi plant, is traditionally grown as a medicinal herb and it is not as commonly used as a culinary herb.

It has a ton of medicinal qualities and is often used to make herbal tea, and is characterized by its green or purple leaves with serrated edges.

Amazing basil plant producing tall purple flowers

FAQs

What is the best place in the garden to grow basil?

It is best to grow basil in an area that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. This is because the basil leaf is rather sensitive to leaf scorch which is caused by high temperatures and too much sun exposure.

It is also best to grow basil in soil that has been amended with compost. This is to help ensure that your plants are in a growing area that is high in nutrients with very well draining soil as well.

What tools should you use for basil harvesting?

When it comes to basil harvesting, you really don’t need anything more than your fingers and a basket! You can simply pick away either the basil leaves or entire stems just using your fingers, but other gardeners may say its better to use little clippers.

How tall should a basil seedling be before transplanting?

The height of a basil seedling will vary according to the variety that you chose to grow. The seedling itself should be around 3-6 inches, but the real sign that basil is ready for transplanting is when it has 2 sets of true leaves.

Seed starting can begin indoors about 4-6 weeks before the last expected frost date of the season, or you can do seed starting directly outdoors after the frost date as well.

When it the best time of year to harvest seeds from a basil plant?

The best time of year to harvest seeds from your basil plant will ultimately depend on the when you planted them in the first place. Gardeners will usually start their seed saving process in the late summer, early fall, or late fall.

If growing basil indoors, should you use a grow light?

If you’re growing basil indoors it is very important that your basil plant is receiving enough sun exposure. If you happen to have a south facing window that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun exposure per day, then you’re set. Otherwise, you may need to purchase a grow light for supplemental lighting. Set the timer of the grow light to 10 hours per day for sufficient light exposure.

What is the best type of potting soil to use for growing basil?

The best type of potting soil to use for growing basil is going to be something that is high in nutrients and well draining. You can create your own potting mix by taking gardening soil and amending it with materials that encourage drainage (like sand, gravel, or pebbles). You can also incorporate compost or fertilizer into the potting mix to increase the fertility of the soil.

What are some common ways to use basil?

Many people think that the only way to use basil is by using a fresh basil leaf for a garnish or for making pesto, but in fact its uses go far beyond the culinary world.

Basil is also grown as a medicinal and healthy herb since it is full of nutrients, vitamins, etc. It is also used for companion planting. Companion planting is where a gardener plans their garden out in a way that more vulnerable plants can be protected by tougher plants, or combining plants to support one another under the soil as well. The fragrant leaves repel unwanted pests and help attract beneficial pollinators to the area!