Should I cut off basil flowers?
Yes, it’s generally recommended to cut off basil flowers as soon as you notice them. This prevents the plant from going to seed and preserves the flavor and aroma of the leaves. Here’s a quick overview of what to do:
- Pinch or snip off any flower stalks as soon as they appear. This prevents pollination and seed production.
- Cut back to just above a set of leaves to encourage bushy regrowth.
- Continue harvesting leaves as usual, being careful not to remove more than 1/3 of the plant at a time.
- Fertilize and water regularly to support new growth after pruning.
Removing the flowers helps extend the productive life of your basil plant. Once basil is allowed to flower and go to seed, the leaves often become bitter and lose flavor. By frequently pruning away flowers, you can keep the plant in a vegetative state longer.
Why does my basil have flowers?
There are a few common reasons why basil produces flowers:
- Maturity – Basil is triggered to flower once it reaches full maturity, usually after 3-4 months of growth.
- Heat – High temperatures, especially over 85°F, can initiate bolting and flowering.
- Long days – The long days of summer with over 12 hours of daylight also signal flowering.
- Stress – Any type of stress like underwatering, overcrowding, or nutrient deficiency can cause bolting.
- Pinching – Neglecting to pinch off stem tips can allow flowering.
In most cases, the flowering is a natural development in the plant’s life cycle. But environmental stressors often speed up the transition from the vegetative to reproductive stage. Providing ideal growing conditions with proper care is key to delaying flowers.
What happens if you let basil flower?
Allowing basil to remain in a flowering state has several consequences:
- The plant stops producing as many new leaves and branch shoots.
- The remaining leaves often become smaller and distorted in shape.
- The flavor diminishes, sometimes taking on a bitter taste as essential oils shift production to the flowers.
- With pollination, the flowers form seeds, further diminishing leaf production.
- The seeds drop to the ground, potentially resulting in unwanted basil plants next season if they germinate.
For best results, don’t wait to remove flowers. Prune stalks off as soon as you spot them to keep plants actively growing leaves. A regular habit of pinching off flowers leads to bushier, more productive plants.
Can you still use flowering basil?
Basil with flowers can still be used, but keep in mind the diminished flavor. Taste a leaf first before harvesting. Avoid any that taste very bitter, which indicates low levels of flavorful compounds.
The younger top leaves generally have the best flavor on a flowering plant. Prune off the flowers and older growth to encourage new growth. Smaller leaves near the top will have a more concentrated taste.
Use flowering basil within a couple days and avoid letting it linger in the fridge. The leaves lose quality and degrade faster once flowering is underway.
If the taste is extremely poor, discard the basil entirely and grow a new plant. But moderate bitterness can be masked in cooked dishes or by pairing with other strong flavors.
How to use flowering basil
Here are some good ways to use up basil that has started flowering:
- Pesto, herb butters, and sauces – Blend with oil, cheese, nuts or other herbs to balance any bitterness.
- Mixed into stir fries, curries, and soups – Cooking mellows the taste.
- With tomatoes, onions, garlic – Strong flavors stand up to declining basil quality.
- Grilled meats, fish, and vegetables – Char from grilling disguises off-flavors.
- Fresh juices and drinks – Sweeteners and citrus fruits complement the herbal notes.
- Infused in oil or vinegar – The preservation process modifies the taste.
- Pickled or preserved – Brining alters the flavor profile.
Avoid delicately flavored dishes like salads, creamy sauces, and scrambled eggs where the inferior taste will stand out. Focus on applications where other flavors will balance out the shift in taste.
How to harvest basil flowers
If you want to use the actual basil flowers, snip off flower heads individually, being careful to leave behind leaves and stem. Flowers can also be pinched off stems.
Use them right away for maximum flavor and texture quality. Keep in mind the flowers will impart some bitterness.
Popular uses for basil flowers:
- Fresh in drinks like lemonade, cocktails, and sparkling water for visual appeal
- Infused in oil or vinegar to moderately tame bitterness
- Decorative garnishes on finished dishes
- As color, texture, and light basil flavor in fresh salads
- Candied or crystallized flowers using sugar
- Frozen in ice cubes to prevent wilting
The flowers have a delicate nature and wilt quickly. Store them in the refrigerator a maximum of 2-3 days in a container lined with a dry paper towel to absorb extra moisture.
How to prevent basil from flowering
Here are some tips to keep basil actively growing leaves and postpone flowering:
- Start with smaller container plants rather than seeds. Mature plants bolt faster.
- Select slow bolting varieties like sweet basil, lettuce leaf, or Genovese.
- Grow in a container you can move to prevent too much sun/heat exposure.
- Water 1 inch per week and allow soil to partly dry out between waterings.
- Pinch off the top couple sets of leaves every few weeks to encourage branching.
- Fertilize every 2-3 weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer.
- Harvest aggressively, cutting sprigs above leaf pairs to stimulate new growth.
- Monitor daily for flower stalks and remove immediately.
- When flowers do emerge, prune back by half to reboot growth.
Proper pruning and harvesting improves the plant’s longevity significantly. Never remove more than 1/3 of the plant at one time and always cut just above leaf sets.
What to do with bolted basil
If your basil has bolted with multiple tall, woody flower stalks, all is not lost. Here are some revival methods:
- Cut back each stalk by at least half its height to stimulate branching from the lower parts.
- Make cuttings from any smaller side shoots that look healthy to propagate new plants.
- Remove flower heads regularly before seeds fully develop if you want to continue using the plant.
- Focus harvesting on smaller new leaves at the top of branches for best flavor.
- Consider allowing a couple flower heads to develop for harvesting seeds for next year.
With frequent pruning of flowers and harvesting of leaves, you may get a couple more weeks of productivity. But the plant will likely decline in vigor and flavor.
Once a basil plant flowers, it typically has completed its life cycle. At the end of the growing season, you’re often better off composting bolted plants and starting fresh ones rather than trying to revive them.
Can you reverse bolting in basil?
Unfortunately, there is no reliable way to fully reverse bolting once it has begun in basil. The internal chemistry changes within the plant signal it to wind down vegetative growth.
However, you can slow down and somewhat delay the inevitable bolting through good care:
- Cut back flower stalks to reroute energy to leaves and branches.
- Keep soil consistently moist but not soggy.
- Move potted plants to partial shade if temperatures are very hot.
- Boost nutrients with compost tea or fish emulsion every 2-3 weeks.
- Pinch off all new flower buds as they emerge.
- Accept smaller yields and diminished flavor as leaves decrease.
With attentive care, heavy pruning, and prompt removal of flowers, you may be able to squeeze a bit more life out of the plant. But bolting is a naturally programmed process that can only be slightly slowed.
Can you eat basil flowers?
Yes, all parts of the basil plant are edible, including the flowers. The blooms have a milder flavor and scent than the leaves. They taste lightly sweet and floral, with subtle herbal basil undertones.
Both the individual petals and the entire flower heads can be eaten. They make a pretty, edible garnish. Basil flowers are also safe to consume raw or cooked.
However, allowing plants to bloom significantly reduces leaf production, so harvesting many flowers limits how much basil you have for cooking. It’s best to enjoy just a few blooms and remove the rest promptly to maintain flavorful foliage.
Once basil begins to flower, the plant’s energy shifts from leaf growth into reproducing and going to seed. For the best flavor and productivity from your basil, monitor plants closely and pinch off any flower stalks as soon as they emerge.
Frequent harvesting encourages tender new growth, as does pruning back any bolted plants by half. Although flowering signals the natural end of the basil’s life cycle, you can prolong the period of usability by weeks with consistent maintenance.
Remove blooms swiftly, use flowering basil quickly, and choose slow bolting varieties to reap a bountiful harvest of leaves. With diligent care, you can continue enjoying homegrown basil even once it starts trying to flower.