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Harvesting Basil Seeds

Updated on March 16, 2015
MBurgess profile image

Gardening is my second passion. I love to watch seed turn to living plant and flower evolve into an edible thing. Spring enchants me.

Basil Flower Stalks

Basil flower stalks appear in late spring. They produce seeds that may be harvested for plants to be grown the next season.
Basil flower stalks appear in late spring. They produce seeds that may be harvested for plants to be grown the next season. | Source

Re-Growing Your Favorite Basil Plant

Sweet Basil is a delight in any garden and can easily be grown in containers, too, if you haven't much space. Basil plants are easy to harvest for seeds when warmer temperatures dress their leafy stalks with tiny white flowers. I choose to keep these delicious herbs in 18" pots so they can be protected from wandering critters and mishaps that might break their delicate stalks.

The sweet Basil plant is essential player in any herb garden. It is a necessary ingredient in many European dishes and it just smells and tastes wonderful. What do you do then when that plant starts to flower? Many gardeners think the plant is done for and heading out of the garden. I suggest beginning a new plant from that plant's own seed. Let me show you how.

Live Basil Plants

Basil - Live Herb Plants - Five Different Varieties: Clove Basil, Lemon Basil, African Blue Basil, Green Pepper Basil, and Cinnamon Basil
Basil - Live Herb Plants - Five Different Varieties: Clove Basil, Lemon Basil, African Blue Basil, Green Pepper Basil, and Cinnamon Basil

This combination set of Basil plants is an excellent addition to any garden. The many colors and variety of leaves would make a great garden all by itself.

 

Basil - A Rescued Plant

This image is a fully grown, healthy Basil plant in a container garden.
This image is a fully grown, healthy Basil plant in a container garden. | Source

A small business I know gets the out of date flowers and plants from Trader Joe's when they restock. I happened to stop by one day and there were two Basil plants in need of a miracle. I asked them to set them aside for me and I picked them up later in the night. One of the plants was too far gone to revive, but the other one thrived under my care. It is now a nice feature in the herb section of my garden and it is from this plant that I am collecting seeds.

There are a couple of things I wanted to share here about harvesting seeds from Basil flowers. Yes, this image below is the same picture in the opening of this article, but I wanted to share an enlarged version so the tiny black Basil seeds could be seen where they are nesting in the flower stalk. I picked these a little early. As you can see in the picture, my Basil is doing just fine. It is late May in this image and where I live the temperatures are over 100 now. My secret to keeping these plants going? It is simply watering them on a daily basis early in the morning. Do they look like they are dying? Certainly not! At this point, I will remove four flower stalks a week until all of them are off the plant.

I removed these a little early. The flower stalks here are about 10 inches long and could have stayed a little longer with the host plant. No worries. Wait until you see how many seeds I removed just from these four stalks of basil flowers!

Basil Flower Stalks Showing Seeds

The flower stalk of a Basil plant will turn a yellowish tan color when the seeds are ready to harvest as shown in the image. The healthiest seeds will be a deep black color when mature.
The flower stalk of a Basil plant will turn a yellowish tan color when the seeds are ready to harvest as shown in the image. The healthiest seeds will be a deep black color when mature. | Source

Basil Seeds

Saving Seeds

For Later Planting

This is the batch of seeds I pulled out of that set of flower stalks. The seeds are about the same size as sesame seeds, so they are a little easier to see and work with. Even with just four flower stalks, there are enough seeds here to grow at least 60 plants.

I would recommend that you hang the flower stalk somewhere upside down over a container that can catch the seeds as they drop out of the blossom center. The process would be simpler than picking them out one set at a time with a toothpick like I did. You may want to just set them in a plastic bag, whole. The seeds would roll out that way, too.

Separating seeds from basil flowers

Basil seed sorting
Basil seed sorting | Source

Basil Flowers

Separating the Seeds From The Herbs

Separating the seeds from the flower pods and setting aside the herb portion for later is a time consuming, but money saving operation. The best gardeners save seeds year after year. The tiers of the Basil flower hold seven to eight flower sets which develop seed pods. the seeds are ready when they darken and the flower tier is a tan color and dried. I would recommend that the flower stalk be at least 2/3 dried before pulling it from the plant. Although I retrieved a lot of seeds from this batch of cuttings, I could have had more.

I started with the seed pods that were mature and tediously fished the ready ones out. When I had removed the seeds I wanted, I striped the stem completely and set aside the small leaves and flowers for kitchen use later. Here you can see I pinched off the flowers one by one and set them aside. The stems I will save in bags for placing on the BBQ coals or my fire pit. They add a nice aroma. (Take them out of the bag before adding to a fire, please...) I do this now with all of my herb stems. No sense letting them go to waste!

Summer = Seed Season

The Basil plant is still loaded with seed and flower bracts. July 13, 2014
The Basil plant is still loaded with seed and flower bracts. July 13, 2014 | Source

Mid Summer - Seed Season

July brings out seeds on most plants in the garden. It pays to wait. The longer the plant is left to its own devices, the more seeds it will produce.
July brings out seeds on most plants in the garden. It pays to wait. The longer the plant is left to its own devices, the more seeds it will produce. | Source

Basil Seed Sprouts

Basil Seeds Just Sprouting
Basil Seeds Just Sprouting | Source

Identifying Leaf Shapes

Seedling Basil Plants

A small Basil plant erupts from the soil with a semi-circle shape and develops the oblong adult leaves later. When planting different seeds remember that the tiny sprouts sometimes look alike. Designate a specific container for new plants or segregate a section off in a peat pot nursery. When planting seeds using a marker isn't always convenient. In my case, my popsicle sticks tend to get washed out of the area I stuck them in and with the heavy sun exposure, writing on them fades with time. Here you can see the seed envelope top that started these plants. I have not had opportunity to use my newly formed seeds as it is mid summer here in Vegas. When the weather cools I will plant a few of them and share the images. I am waiting for the middle of August for my next plantings.

One of these nurseries contains enough pots to produce dozens of plants. I recommend only planting four pots if this method is used unless there is a huge garden to fill. The tiny pots can handle 5-6 seeds per individual container. Thin the seedlings or separate them carefully to let them stand on their own in a bigger pot. I transfer mine to a slightly larger plastic container when they are about two inches tall and the roots are beginning to grow out of the peat moss. Another transplanting will be undertaken when that plant is at least 10 inches tall.

The Benefits of Basil

Basil is not only a great addition to a pasta dish, it holds some great properties in its leaves for the health of the body. The dark green, meaty leaves are certainly packed with beta carotene.

My Basil plants are a prized addition to the many items I have growing in my yard and garden. The ability to pluck the right amount I need for a recipe saves me money and the joy that the plant brings me simply by watching it grow makes me want to keep them going. Ideally, the seeds that are collected from the plants that successfully produce them means that the plant is tolerant to that growing area if it matures enough to give not only leaves, but flowers and seeds, too. Take time out to harvest the seeds from the stronger plants and keep them coming back, year after year.

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