Basil is one of the most popular (and delicious) culinary herbs around. It’s cultivated for its fragrant, flavorful leaves, which are as tasty in pesto as they are on pizza or tossed into salads. If you’ve been growing this plant but suddenly wondering “why is my basil flowering when I want it bushy and leafy?!”, we can help.
Why is My Basil Flowering? Shouldn’t it be Leafy Instead?
Well, basil is part of the Lamiaceae (mint) family. Many species in this family are as celebrated for their flowers as they are for their leaves. Lavender, for example, is one of basil’s close cousins, and is valued for its flowers. In contrast, peppermint (another cousin) is grown for its leaves.
When you’re growing a plant for its leafy goodness, it can be a bit confusing and distressing when it suddenly bursts into bloom. The thing is, that’s kind of what plants do. Flowering is a natural part of their growth cycle: without flowers, they won’t create seeds. And if they don’t create seeds, they don’t propagate. Their entire being is therefore geared towards getting those flowers out so they can be pollinated good and proper, thus continuing their genetic line.
That said, some plants accelerate towards this process faster than we’d like them to.
Further Reading: Why is My Basil Plant Wilting?
When plants flower far earlier than expected, the process is called “bolting”. This happens when there’s a sudden heat wave, or if the plants are suddenly moved to a very sunny location after a period in the shade. The sudden sun + heat combination makes the plants leap into flowering action. They think that they only have a limited time to get into seed mode, so they shift from vegetative (leafy) growth to flowering.
What to Do About It
There are several ways to deal with a flowering basil plant.
For one, you can halt the flowering process by removing those blooms. If you remove flowers from a plant, it remains in its vegetative state. This means that it’s putting all its energy into creating green leafy growth. When it comes to culinary herbs, this is the state that you’ll want them to stay in.
Basil and other tasty herbs lose most of their flavor once their flowers mature and start going to seed. If you can pinch off the flower heads before they open up too much, you’ll halt that process. The plants will bush outwards and get leafier, rather than trying to produce more blooms.
That said, remember that basil flowers are actually quite tasty. If you’re aiming to expand your culinary repertoire a bit, you can get experimental with different culinary herb flowers. Allow some of your basil plants to bloom, and incorporate those flowers into your cooking. After all, basil flowers have a similar flavor to the leaves. This makes them ideal to pair with friends like oregano and garlic.
Related Post: 20 Spices that Go with Garlic
For example, you can add basil flowers into Italian bread salad, known as panzanella. This is a gorgeous way to use up stale bread, while adding in luscious fresh tomatoes, olives, capers, roasted red peppers, and whatever herbs you have on hand. Alternatively, try garnishing soups with some basil and chive flowers. They’ll add bursts of flavor and color to just about everything.
Flowers Become Seeds
As a final option, you can allow some of your basil plants to go to seed. This allows them to live out their entire natural life process, while also giving you thousands of seeds to plant next season.
Bees absolutely love basil flowers, and will happily flock to any blooms they find in your garden. This is ideal, because bountiful bees and butterflies will pollinate all the veggies, herbs, and fruits you may be growing.
Once pollinated, those flowers will mature into seed heads. A single basil plant will create hundreds of tiny little seeds, and each of those seeds has the potential to grow into another healthy, beautiful basil plant.
As soon as the seed heads start to go brown, cut down the plants at the base of their stems. Tie these stems together with twine, and pop them seed head-side down into paper bags. Then tie the bags closed around the stems, and hang in a dry, warm place for several weeks. The dried heads will dry out and pop open, releasing their seeds into the paper bag below.
Feel free to shake the bag lightly to help encourage this release.
Once those seeds have fallen into the bag, you can transfer them into a clean jar. Store these somewhere cool and dry until you’re ready to plant them! Share them with friends and family, sow them in your garden, or try to grow them in countertop pots all year round.
One can never have too much basil, right?