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Hardiness Zone: 8a
Holly from Richardson, TX
Basil is somewhat prone to bolting and going to seed, especially in warm weather. The seed heads actually increase the amount of volatile oils in the plant's leaves, so culinary basil needs to be harvested before the flower stalk is produced for the best flavor and the longest shelf-life. Bolting is usually the result of elevated temperatures or due to stress from harvesting large amounts of foliage at one harvest. If more than 1/3 to 2/3 of the leaves are taken at one time (especially during warm temperatures) the plant can be induced into premature bolting. To avoid this, harvest 1/3 to 2/3 of the upper portion of the plant and pinch back the stems to encourage leafy growth. You can also cut the entire stem back to one or two pairs of leaves, although this sometimes causes re-growth to bolt early. It's worth noting that there are now basil varieties less resistant to early bolting.
Yes, just trim off the flowers and the tiny leaves near the top of the plant. Harvesting some of the larger leaves to put on salad or pesto will help to encourage the plant to keep creating leaves, too. This can be done many, many times--I once kept a basil plant alive for nearly a year, inside the house and out.
I grow basil every summer. I finally bought a food dehyrdator and dry it for use in the winter. I can't figure out why basil in the market is so expensive when it grows so large and easily.
I grew my basil plant from seed last year. It's still growing strong! I just pinch the tips when it looks like it's getting ready to flower. Every so often I will trim the stems down and dehydrate the leaves in the oven. I just wash them, place them on an oven safe plate at 200F for about 20 minutes. Crumble and put into a spice jar.
I snip off the flower heads through out the season and use them in cooking also.