Basil plants will start flower if they are not pruned or if you forget about them later in summer. If a basil plant is left to grow, the central stem will grow in length and produce flowers at the end. Most sweet basil varieties will grow white flowers while Thai and red basil will grow purple flowers.
Basil flowers are edible and taste best when they are picked early.
Most gardeners will remove the flower buds from basil as soon as they appear as the leaves can turn tough and bitter once the plant starts to flower. To grow more basil leaves rather than flowers, prune the plant regularly by trimming off the top 1 inch from the basil.
These leaves are delicious in salads or pasta and will encourage your plant to grow new tender leaves to replace them.
This article will explore all you need to know about basil flowers, whether you should prune them off and whether or not they are edible.
When do basil grow flowers?
Basil plants will grow flowers in summer when the weather is warm and if the plant is not pruned. The central stem will continue to grow taller and will grow flowers at the end if it is left alone. This can appear as quickly as 6 weeks from the time of planting if the weather is hot.
Basil plants are producing flowers to set seed for the next years crop. You can let the plant set seed at the end of summer before the cold weather hits and collect it for the next year. Wait until you can feel solid seeds in the pods then prune the whole flower off and place it in a paper bag.
Leave the flower head in the bag for 2-3 weeks until it dries and then the seeds will shake free of the flower.
Do basil flowers attract bees?
Basil flowers will attract bees to your herb and vegetable garden. These can be a perfect way to increase pollination of your strawberries, fruit trees and tomato plants by planting them nearby. While you can let the flowers appear at the end of the summer season, it is best to pinch them off earlier in the season.
I would let my basil plants flower and go to seed once I have finished picking the leaves for my cooking. By letting the basil plant go to flower, it will channel all of its energy into growing seeds and forget about growing leaves. The remaining leaves will also go bitter so only let the plant flower once you are done with basil leaves.
Should you prune off basil flowers?
You should prune off basil flowers to allow the plant focus its energy on growing leaves.
You should remove basil flowers or the tips of the basil plant earlier in the spring and summer season. This will encourage the plant to branch out, grow more leaves and be more productive.
To prune off the basil flowers without damaging the plant, use sharp garden scissors or secateurs to trim off the heads. You can pinch them off with your fingertips if you have sharp nails but it can be cleaner just to use scissors.
You can remove the flowers just below the flowering head or take an extra inch below the flower to encourage more leaves. Basil plants will actually benefit from pruning and taking up to 1/3 of the plant off at a time. Always try to leave at least 6 leaves on the bottom of the stem so the plant can still photosynthesize and grow new stems.
If you want your basil plant to set seed at the end of the season leave the flowers on.
Wait until the end of the season and leave the flower heads on. The seeds will form on the end of the stems and you can prune them off and allow them to dry out. Heirloom varieties of basil will set a seed that is true to the plant and will be more likely to be grow.
Hybrid basil plants bought from supermarket may not set viable seed and are better off being replaced with new plants in the next spring.
Can you eat basil flowers?
You can eat basil flowers and they will be tastier and more tender if they are picked off earlier. They will have a faint taste of basil but are used in restaurants mostly for their beautiful look.
Basil flowers can be used fresh on desserts or in salad. Cooked flowers can go into pasta and on pizza or anythign else that that has a strong savory taste like stews or casseroles.
Can you eat basil leaves after it has flowered?
You can eat basil leaves after it has flowered but they can start to go woody and bitter. When the plant starts to grow flowers the stems will harden, the energy will be sent to grow the flowers and seed sand the leaves can start to dry off.
Leaves picked from basil after it has flowered can have a bitter taste. They are still fine to use in cooking and it is barely noticeable but can taste different when you eat them fresh.
How to stop basil from flowering
You can stop basil from flowering easily by trimming off the top 2 inches of each stem every 2-3 weeks. Pinch or snip off the top of the basil plant even if you don’t plan on using the leaves to encourage it to grow bushier and to grow new, sweet leaves.
I always trim my basil regularly for cooking anyway so they rarely have the chance to flower. The basil plants will grow back quickly but it is always great to have too much basil in your garden. Prune off large handfuls of basil and make pesto or mix it together with oil and make a basil oil to put on pizza or pasta.
Are basil plants supposed to flower? | Summary
Basil plants are supposed to flower so the plant can reproduce but if you are growing basil at home to eat it is best to prune the flowers off. Flowering basil can look beautiful and attract bees but it will cause the leaves to taste bitter and the stems to become woody.
Keep your basil sweet and tasty by pruning off the top 2 inches of the basil plant regularly to remove the flowers. Basil seeds are cheap and easy to buy so save yourself some time and just plant new seeds at the beginning of spring.
Letting your basil flower at the end of the season when you have it planted in a vegetable garden or on the edge of a garden bed can be a great way to attract bees to other fruiting plants in your garden.
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I am an accredited practicing dietitian, experienced gardener and a dedicated cook. I love writing and sharing my experience so you can learn from my successes and mistakes.