All That Bountiful Basil

by Jacqueline A. Soule.

Last month I wrote about basil  in these pages.  In my Gardening With Soule Blog I wrote about how to grow basil in the desert.  Now let’s look at more basil uses, and some plant care in our heat not discussed previously.


Hot Plants. 

If you bought your basil plants at a big box store, chances are it is not an ideal variety of basil to grow here.  In the image below, the plant shows signs of both excessive light and heat stress with yellowing leaves and some sunburned and browned leaves.  Basil harvested from such a stressed plant will taste bitter, not really worth the water it takes to keep the plant alive.  If you did end up with a large leaved basil, consider growing it on a covered patio or under shade cloth.

basil habit 009

Some varieties of basil, like this large leaf cultivar, do not appreciate hot sun and high temps.

Basil Blooms.

If you want basil seeds, let your basil bloom.  Otherwise, you should remove and spikes of blooms – ideally before they get too big and use up the energy the plant could use making more luscious leaves instead of flowers.

basil pinch 001

These spikes of basil blooms were pinched off the plant.

Remove the spikes of blooms by pinching them off.  Yes, you can use pruners or scissors or a knife, but scientific evidence shows that good old fashioned fingers are the best tool for the job.  Why?  Because when we cut, we cut through plant cells, but when we pinch, the plant ruptures between cell walls.  The plant heals more quickly when the damage is between the cells instead of right through the middle of them.

basil pinch 006

The best tool for removing basil blooms is your own hand.


basil pinched stalk 002

The plant heals more rapidly when hand pinched, even though a tidy-minded person might not like the ragged look to the pinch site.

Harvesting Basil.

You can harvest basil leaves any time you need some.  If you are careful about it, your plant will just keep making more leaves, especially if you harvest just above a node of young leaves.


basil harvest_2678

Yes you should pinch your harvest – just like you pinch blossoms. The scissors are in the picture to indicate where to cut – just above a node of young leaves.


Using Your Basil.

Tons of ways to use basil, but I am fond of one I just learned – basil spreadable pseudo-cheese.  (I have to come up with a better name!)

You will need: a clean bandanna, a quart of plain Greek yogurt, a bowl, a colander, time, and some basil.

Put the colander into the bowl and line the colander with the clean bandanna.  Dump the yogurt into the bandanna and let this sit in the ‘fridge overnight.  The whey will drip out of the yogurt.  (You can leave it for 24 hours if you want.) From a quart of yogurt, I got almost a cup of whey.

This un-wheyed yogurt becomes thick and spreadable, almost like cream-cheese, and it does not stick to the bandanna!  It is not as creamy as cream cheese, but if you add flavorful herbs like basil, it is entirely tasty!

basil chop_6259

Chop your basil finely for this dish.


Dump your yogurt-cheese out of the bandanna.  Harvest some basil, chop it up, mix it into your yogurt, and let it sit for at least four hours to help the basil flavor to merge into the cheese.

basil chop_6262

Let your basil flavor infuse into the cheese for at least 4 hours. Longer is just fine.

Using the Whey.  

Since I got a cup of whey, I did not want to throw it away.  I tried a sip – not my cup of tea!  Since it is an animal product it shouldn’t go into the compost heap either.  I put it into a smoothy with sweet fruit and with a dollop of honey it was fine.


About Jacqueline Soule

JAS avatarJacqueline’s latest book “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It is divided into warm season and cool season growing so you can easily select other plants to grow this summer.

All text and all photos (except where noted) are copyright © 2015 by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.



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