Basil is an annual herb that grows throughout the warm season. Well-suited to both garden beds and pots outdoors, basil can also be grown year-round inside the home. Basil is grown for its aromatic leaves, that are used to add flavor to sauces, meats and a variety of other dishes. Basil leaves are used both fresh and dried, as the aromatic oils survive the drying process with only a minimal loss of flavor. Harvest the leaves when they are at their peak of flavor and without damaging the plant if you want to enjoy this fresh herb.
Harvest basil in late morning or afternoon, once the foliage is dried. Harvest leaves when they are full-size, as these leaves have fully developed the plants' flavorful oils, according to Ohio State University Extension.
Cut off leaves from the outside of the plant with a small pair of scissors if you are harvesting basil for immediate fresh use. Cut the leaf stems off where they emerge from the stem.
Cut off entire sprigs of leaves if you need more basil or are preserving it. Remove branches from the outside of the plant, cutting each branch back to one-third its previous height. Cut the branch off in front of a leaf bud.
Harvest the entire plant in fall prior to the first frost, if it is growing in an outdoor bed. Pull the basil up by its roots then strip all the leaves from the stems.
Basil leaves are also preserved by freezing. Spread the leaves out on a paper towel in a well-ventilated room to dry them. Turn the leaves once a day until they are completely dry and brittle. Drying takes one to two weeks.
Basil loses much of its flavor if the plant is allowed to flower. Pinch off flower buds before they bloom.