A flowering basil plant is a beautiful thing, but it is also quite a meaningful plant-happening depending on why you are growing basil in your garden in the first place.
We’ve written this article in an effort to inform gardeners about why their basil plant is flowering, and what you should do going forward! We will go through how to get basil to flower, how to prevent it from flowering, and some used for basil flowers you may not have known about before!
What does a Flowering Basil Plant Mean?
Most basil plants grow as either annuals or biennials. Annual plants have a single growing season and perish after the plant has flowered. Biennial plants will usually have 2 growing seasons and will perish after the plant has flowered.
Bolting basil is when the plant starts to produce seed pods so that the plant can reproduce. Once this happens, all of the energy that is regularly put towards producing new basil leaves will then go towards creating seeds.
When this happens, the new and existing basil leaves tend to lose a lot of their appealing flavor and fragrance and be come dull and sometimes bitter. For this reason, it is a good idea to harvest as many leaves as soon as you can, once you notice your plant has started flowering.
*We’ll list some great ways to preserve basil leaves and use them for cooking in a few sections!
How do you Get Basil to Flower?
Basil plants really do not need help when it comes to flowering. They aren’t like other flowering plants that may need an extra boost of fertilizer to encourage them to bloom.
A lot of gardeners actually try to prevent basil from flowering (this is when they’re growing basil as a culinary herb) so that it continues to create a basil harvest.
If you’re growing basil as an ornamental herb or for companion planting, all you have to do is leave the basil be! Don’t prune it, no need to fertilizer. Pruning basil will prevent it from flowering, if you want it to flower, just leave it alone once you see that flower bud form.
In order to grow fresh basil leaves you’ll have to make sure that it is growing in nutrient rich soil anyway, so these same nutrients will go into helping the plant feel healthy enough to flower.
Flowering basil is great for local ecosystem as it is as essential source of nectar for pollinators like bees, wasps, moths, hummingbirds and butterflies. Its fragrant foliage also helps repel certain unwanted pests from your herb garden or vegetable garden.
How do you Prevent Basil from Flowering?
If you are a gardener who is growing basil for culinary purposes, you won’t want to let your plant go to flower! The longer you prevent your plant from flowering, the longer it will produce those beautiful fresh basil leaves.
The best way to prevent it from flowering is by pruning. Pruning basil (the tops of the stems) should happen every couple of weeks. Like I said earlier, these plants just want to flower and you actively have to stop them from doing so.
Another hot tip that expert gardeners have is to separate your basil plants into two different categories. One section will be basil plants that you let to go to flower so that the population continues, and the other section is the one you prevent from flowering for basil leaf harvesting.
What should you do with Basil Flowers?
There are plenty of things that you can do with fresh basil flowers, whether the plant flowered intentionally or not. Here’s a little list of some uses that you may not have thought of!
Harvesting basil seed is a great way to ensure that your basil patch lasts for a very long time. Once your plant has bolted, you can take away the spent flower heads and let them dry out for a few days.
From here, you can place each flower head in a paper bag and crush them all up so that the flowers, seed pods, and seeds all separate from one another. You can then shake out the bag over a colander (with very thin holes) so that the small black basil seed falls into a tray below.
Basil Flower Pesto
If you’ve never tried basil flower pesto (sometimes called basil flower vinegar) before, you should absolutely make some the next time you have a surplus of fresh basil flowers. Basil flower pesto is similar to regular pesto, but it uses flowers instead of leaves with a little bit of added vinegar as well.
A basil flower has a very similar flavor to basil leaves but in a more concentrated form. Whereas basil leaves are more sweet than they are spicy, those purple flowers are more spicy than they are sweet.
Basil flower pesto is a mixture of olive oil pine nuts, vinegar, and a ton of garlic. The olive oil acts as a natural preservative so that your basil flower vinegar can last a surprisingly long time in the fridge!
Otherwise, you can just use those beautiful flowers as a fresh garnish for nearly any dish that you can think of. They’re amazing on pasta dishes, and are gorgeous on desserts and cocktails as well.
What are some Popular Basil Varieties?
Sweet Basil (Ocimum Basilicum) – sweet basil is definitely the most popular basil variety. It is very commonly used in kitchens to make pesto and other pasta sauces, or as a fresh garnish or as dried basil, and it has that characteristic basil flavor of sweet and spicy.
Ocimum basilicum is also the main basil variety to which all of the following basil varieties are derived from. This variety has wide and long green leaves and the plant only grows to be 8-20 inches tall.
Purple Basil – purple basil is a lesser known basil variety, but just as valued. This variety has distinct purple leaves and purple stems that are smaller and with serrated edges. There is a specific variety called ‘dark opal’ with very dark purple leaves.
Purple basil has a very similar flavor to common basil, but it is almost strictly used for its fresh leaves. This is because they are very beautifully colored when fresh.
Holy Basil – holy basil isn’t a common basil variety as it is isn’t mainly used as a culinary herb. It has a long standing medicinal background and is an important component in Ayurvedic medicine.
Cinnamon Basil – cinnamon basil is a super cool basil hybrid that not many people know about! It is known for its super spicy fragrance and flavor.
Cinnamon basil will have either green leaves or purple leaves and purple stems, but it has distinct pink flowers when it blooms. It’s a popular medicinal herb and it often made into tea.
Lemon Basil – lemon basil is a very popular culinary herb throughout Asia. It is often used as a fresh garnish in soups and stirfry because of its distinct citrusy kick accompanying the classic basil flavor. There is a popular cultivar called ‘siam queen’ that has purple ruffles for leaves!
Lemon basil also looks a little bit different. Its green leaves tend to be longer and more narrow and they have serrated edges. These plants grow to be an average height of 8-20 inches tall.
Genovese Basil – Genovese is the basil variety that you use if you want to make pesto. These are super vigorous growers that produce a ton of leaves for harvesting. They are best known for their high leaf production.
Genovese basil is a huge plant and it can grow to be over 3 feet tall in ideal growing conditions. Its leaves are also big, sometimes reaching 3 inches in length. It’s known for having a sweeter flavor to it as well.
Where is the best place to plant basil in the garden?
The best place to plant basil is going to be an area in your garden that receives morning sun, but some partial shade in the heat of the afternoon sun.
It is also important that the soil that basil is planted in is rich in nutrients and very well draining. Amend your soil with compost and sand before planting basil.
What flower color do basil flowers come in?
The flower color of a basil plant will vary according to the species and cultivar, but they are mostly white or light purple. Cinnamon basil is known for growing pink flowers. You’ll start to see basil blooms as the end of the growing season in the late summer or early fall.
When is the best time of year to grow basil?
Most gardeners will start to grow basil in the early spring. They can start their basil seedlings indoors 4-6 weeks before the last threat of frost, or they can sow seed directly in the ground after that date.
If you are growing from cuttings, you can decide to propagate your cuttings pretty much any time of year as long as your have a sunny, south facing window.
When is the best time to harvest basil?
The best time to harvest basil is entirely throughout the growing season. Like we mentioned before, if you are keen on having a constant supply of fresh basil leaves you’ll have to prune the plant!
It is best to trim away the true leaves (true leaves are large and deep green) and leave the tiny leaves behind to let them keep growing (tiny leaves are closer to the stem and a lighter green color).
What is the best type of soil to plant basil in?
Basil likes to grow in soil that is well draining, rich in nutrients, and on the lighter side. If you’re worried about the state of your garden soil, you can always amend it with compost and sand to improve drainage and nutrient content.
Is it better grow basil indoors or grow basil outdoors?
Where you decide to grow your basil plant will totally depend on the weather patterns of the place you live in. Basil likes to live in the middle of conditions. It doesn’t like to be too hot or too cold, not too wet or too dry, not too windy, not too much sun but also not too little. If you live in a place with a mild climate they can be very happy. If you live in a place with harsh weather patterns that are hard to predict, you may want to grow basil indoors.