What do you do with basil stalks?

When harvesting fresh basil, it’s common to remove the leaves from the stems before using the herb in recipes. But what should you do with the leftover basil stems? As it turns out, there are many uses for basil stalks, so don’t toss them in the compost bin just yet!

Quick Answers

Here are some quick answers to common questions about basil stalks:

  • Can you eat basil stems? Yes, basil stems are edible and can be eaten raw or cooked.
  • Are basil stems useful? Yes, basil stems have many uses including making pesto, infused oils, stocks, and teas.
  • Should you remove basil stems? It’s up to personal preference – some recipes call for just the leaves while others utilize the entire plant.
  • Can you freeze basil stems? Yes, basil stems can be frozen for later use in pestos, stocks, etc.
  • What nutrients are in basil stems? Basil stems contain fiber, iron, magnesium, vitamin K, and more.

Use Basil Stems for Pesto

One of the most common uses for basil stems is to make homemade pesto. Traditional pesto alla Genovese is made by blending basil leaves, garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil, and salt and pepper. There’s no reason the stems can’t be included too.

Simply wash the basil stems, removing any wilted or discolored portions on the ends. Then add the stems and leaves to your pesto recipe and process as usual. The stems provide extra flavor and fiber. Just be sure to remove any thick, woody portions from the lower stems which can be difficult to fully blend.

You can use a traditional mortar and pestle to make pesto by hand or use a food processor for quicker pesto prep. The stems may need a bit more processing time to break down compared to just the tender leaves.

Making pesto is a great way to use up a bounty of fresh basil. Consider doubling pesto recipes and freezing half of the pesto in ice cube trays for easy use later in soups, pastas, and more.

Infuse Flavor with Basil Stem Oil

Another way to utilize basil stems is by infusing the flavor into olive oil. Simply fill a mason jar with clean, dry basil stems and leaves and then cover with olive oil. Allow the basil to steep in the oil for 2-4 weeks to infuse the flavor.

Strain out the basil and you’re left with a bright green, basil-infused oil. Try using it for dipping bread, drizzling over pasta and soups, or anywhere you want a boost of herbal flavor. The oil will keep for 2-3 months stored in the refrigerator.

You can also use this method to make infused vinegars with basil stems. Use a mild tasting white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar and allow basil to steep for 2-4 weeks before straining.

Add to Stocks and Soups

Don’t restrict basil stems to just Italian cuisine! Adding the stems to stocks and soups is an easy way to add aromatic flavor without the expense of fresh basil leaves.

Toss clean basil stems into any vegetable or chicken stock as it simmers. Remove before serving for a subtle layer of flavor. You can also add torn or chopped basil stems directly to soups, stews, and chilis as they cook.

Some classic soup pairings include:

  • Chicken noodle soup
  • Minestrone
  • Tomato basil bisque
  • Tortellini and bean soup
  • Vegetable barley soup

The soft stems will break down as the soup cooks while releasing aromatic oils into the broth. Just be sure to remove any thick lower stems for easier eating.

Transform into Teas

The pleasant flavor of basil makes it a popular ingredient in herbal teas. And you can utilize those stems instead of just the leaves.

To make a soothing basil stem tea:

  1. Rinse basil stems and allow to fully dry.
  2. Chop into small pieces.
  3. Add about 1 tablespoon chopped basil stems per cup of boiling water.
  4. Allow to steep for 5-7 minutes, then strain.
  5. Enjoy the tea hot or over ice. Add lemon wedges or a drizzle of honey if desired.

You can also use basil stems to make flavored ice cubes. Simply add chopped stems to water in an ice cube tray before freezing. Then add the aromatic basil ice cubes to water, lemonade, or cocktails.

Blend into Smoothies

The mild flavor of basil makes it a great addition to fruit smoothies. Toss in a handful of basil stems along with your favorite smoothie ingredients like fruit, yogurt, milk, juice, and ice.

Some tasty combinations include:

  • Strawberry basil smoothie – strawberries, banana, basil, milk
  • Green pineapple smoothie – pineapple, spinach, basil, coconut water
  • Blueberry maple basil smoothie – blueberries, basil, maple syrup, Greek yogurt, milk

The basil adds a hint of herbal essence without overwhelming the other flavors. Try using about 1/4 cup loosely packed basil stems and leaves per 2-3 servings of smoothie.

Make Flavored Sugars

Here’s an idea for putting basil stems to use in a fun DIY project! Making flavored sugars is easy:

  1. Clean and thoroughly dry the basil stems.
  2. Layer basil stems in a jar, alternating with granulated white sugar.
  3. Allow the sugar to sit for 1-2 weeks to absorb the flavors.
  4. Sift out the basil pieces and store the infused sugar in an airtight container.

Sprinkle the sweet basil scented sugar over fruit, oatmeal, baked goods, and more. You can also try this technique with other herbs like mint, rosemary, sage, and thyme.

Pickle the Stems

Pickling is a preservation method that allows you to enjoy basil stems and leaves year-round. Simply pack clean basil stems and leaves into a mason jar and cover with boiling vinegar and water. Allow to cool fully before capping the jars.

Quick pickle basil stems by heating white vinegar and water with salt and sugar. Pour the hot mixture over the basil in jars and allow to cool before storing in the refrigerator for 2-3 months.

Or follow a traditional canning recipe to water bath process pickled basil stems for shelf-stable storage. Use the tangy pickled basil as a condiment, garnish, or addition to meals and snacks.

Use in Cooking and Baking

There are endless savory and sweet ways to use chopped basil stems in your everyday cooking:

  • Add to omelets, frittatas, and scrambled eggs
  • Mix into dips like hummus, baba ghanoush, and tzatziki
  • Stir into salad dressings and marinades
  • Mix into ground meat for herbed burgers or meatballs
  • Add to pasta dishes, pizza, baked ziti
  • Simmer in tomato sauce
  • Blend into compound butters

For baking, try adding minced basil stems to:

  • Quick breads like muffins and banana bread
  • Focaccia and bread dough
  • Pizza dough
  • Scones
  • Pesto swirls in bread

The options are endless for using up leftover basil stems in both sweet and savory recipes.

Dry for Later Use

Like basil leaves, the stems can also be dried to preserve the flavor. There are a few options for drying basil stems:

  • Air drying – Tie basil stems in bunches and hang upside down in a warm, dry spot out of direct sunlight. Once fully dried, crumble the leaves and store in an airtight container.
  • Dehydrator – Arrange basil stem pieces in a single layer on dehydrator trays. Dehydrate at 95°F until crispy, about 1-2 hours.
  • Oven – Spread basil stems out on a baking sheet in a 200°F oven for 15-20 minutes until dried.

Dried basil stems have numerous uses. You can add them to marinara sauce, sprinkle over meats, blend into dips and dressings, or use when baking. Store in an airtight container out of sunlight for the best flavor retention.

Craft with the Stems

If you have kids, using basil stems for crafts can be a fun way to reuse them. Here are some ideas:

  • Add color to DIY natural dyes by boiling basil stems in water
  • Place stems in vases for aromatherapy decor
  • Create scented sachets by bundling dried stems in cloth bags
  • Make unique stamps by bundling and tying stems together

Basil stems can add visual and fragrant touches to creative projects. Keep a bag of stems in the freezer until you’re ready to craft.

Use as Garden Compost

When all else fails, collect basil stems to use as garden compost. The stems will break down well alone or when mixed with other yard and food waste.

Chop the stems first to speed up decomposition. Then toss them into your compost pile or bin. The added green matter provides nitrogen to create a healthy compost habitat for microbes.

You can also put basil stems directly into the soil around garden plants. The stems will help suppress weeds as they break down over time.


While basil leaves get all the glory, don’t throw away those stems yet! With minimal effort, basil stems can be used to add flavor, nutrition, and aroma in recipes, crafts, and garden compost piles.

Basil is an abundant summer crop, so put those stems work. Try adding them to homemade pesto, infused oils, stocks, or blended into smoothies. Or simply use basil stems as you would the leaves in soups, sauces, baking, and more.

The options are endless for repurposing often discarded basil stems. With a little creativity, you can use the entire basil plant from leaves to stems and put less waste.

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