Basil is an annual herb known by the scientific name Ocimum basilicum, and is native to Asia and the South Pacific. Popular in a number of cuisines, the basil plant is noted for its aroma and taste. Basil grows well in most garden locations with full sun at least 6 hours per day. There's no set harvest season for basil, although there are some harvest timing and procedures that prolong the harvest and improve the quality of the herbs.

Basil can be dried and crushed or used fresh in a variety of dishes.

Using Fresh

Clip fresh basil leaves as needed for fresh use. This can start as soon as the leaves of the plant are large enough for use. Clip the stem where it extends from a two-leaf joint. A new stem and leaf will grow from this point. Continuing to clip and use the basil while it is young and tender keeps the leaves and stems from maturing and forming buds and blooms. Once the basil plant has flowered, the leaves have a bitter taste.

Cutting for Drying

Harvest basil for drying when tender and before the plant buds or blooms. Harvesting the basil later in the day, after the morning dew has passed, reduces the moisture content of the basil. Avoid the heat of the day which could wilt the basil before it can be dried.

Preventing Blooms

Clip the center stems from the plant even if they won't be used. This keeps the plant producing new shoots, which are usable, rather than transferring the energy to buds and blossoms, which ultimately reduce the flavor of the basil.

Harvesting All Year

Unless you live in a climate where outdoor temperatures stay above freezing, place the plant in a pot and move it indoors for year-around use. The plants thrive indoors if supplied with adequate water and light. Maintain the same harvest procedures using the fresh stems and leaves, while preventing the plant from blooming. Start new seeds outdoors the next growing season.