Have you noticed how expensive basil is in the grocery store? Growing my own basil, like other herbs, is one of the most cost-saving inclusions in my garden. Even if you buy the basil starts at your garden supply store in the spring and grow it in your garden, you’re saving money. But why stop there when harvesting and saving basil seed is so easy?
Step One: Let the flowers form and turn brown
In the center of the cluster of basil leaves, you’ll notice a small flower beginning to form. If you’re wanting to harvest basil leaves, this isn’t a good sign. You’ll want to pick that cluster off as soon as possible. BUT, if you want to let your basil set seeds for next season’s planting, leave the plant alone to do its thing. The green flower stalk will emerge, and you’ll soon see white flowers. Enjoy watching the bees sip that delicious basil nectar while you wait for the green flower stalk to turn brown. After it does, you’re ready for step two.
Step Two: Pinch the flowers off the stem
Though not required, this will help you separate the seeds from the dried flower petals in the next step.
Step Three: Pull/pinch seeds from the dried flowers
Because basil seeds are so tiny, this step is the most tedious. I’ve found the easiest strategy is to rub the brown flowers between my thumb and index finger until the seeds separate in my hand.
Need a visual? In this two-minute video I harvested 5 basil seeds. Of course, I harvest more than that but you can see how simple it is!
All it takes is a little planning ahead of time. Each summer I choose one basil plant to harvest and one to let develop flower stalks and go to seed. In this video I explained how to cut back the flower stalks to ensure a continuous supply of fresh basil all season.
Once you have harvested the seeds, you have two options:
- Plant the seeds directly in the ground after your last spring frost has passed. Basil grows quickly and easily in the sun-warmed spring soil. Scatter the seeds and watch them emerge a few weeks later. I always plant basil around my tomatoes and anywhere bees are needed for pollination.
- Start the seeds indoors about four weeks before your last spring frost. These seeds take longer to sprout, and frankly I have less luck with them. I’ve found that a seedling heat mat helps; basil is particular with needing warm soil. Once your baby basil plant has a few real leaves, and the spring weather has moderated to warmth (a couple of weeks past the last spring frost), it can be transplanted to the garden.
Or, Use My Lazy Method
If you’re like me, life in the garden gets busy and you might forget to harvest your basil seeds. If that’s the case, don’t harvest the seeds at all. Instead, take the whole brown stem and crumble it up all over your garden. This fast method will scatter the seeds on the ground, and basil volunteers will sprout next year. If you know where your tomatoes will go, that’s an ideal spot.
Using these simple steps, you’ll be on your way to never buying basil again!