What to Do With Basil Flowers

Lemon basil (ocimum x citriodorum) in flower
David Q. Cavagnaro/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you've been growing basil plants, you may already know that it's a good idea to prune the flowers off of the plants as soon as they appear. Leaving the flowers on slows the production of leaves, and many gardeners find that it also reduces the quality or flavor of the leaves.

The question is, what can you do with the flowers?

Eat 'em!

Basil flowers are perfectly edible. In terms of fragrance and flavor, the flowers are similar, if milder, than the leaves. Sometimes, flowers can be somewhat bitter, so test them first. When sprinkled over a salad, basil flowers impart a mild basil flavor and add a decorative touch. They also make a great garnish for anything that pairs well with basil, such as pasta, cheese or fresh fruit, or plates of meat or vegetables.  

Make Basil Flower Vinegar

Basil flower vinegar works well with olive oil or any citrus juice in salad dressings. Here's how to make it: 

  1. Place freshly snipped basil flowers into a clean glass jar and cover them with red or white wine vinegar. You can add more basil flowers to the jar as you have them, along with more vinegar to cover. Keep the jar covered in between basil additions.
  2. Once the jar is full, leave it to infuse for at least a week.
  3. Strain out the basil flowers (you can compost or discard them).
  4. Transfer the vinegar to a clean glass jar or cruet, and cap or cork tightly.

Make Basil Flower Oil

Infuse your favorite olive oil with basil flowers, replenishing with new flowers over time to intensify the flavor: 

  1. Rinse freshly cut basil flowers and pat them dry. 
  2. Drop the flowers (with stems attached) into a clean glass jar. Fill the jar with fresh olive oil to completely cover the flowers. Note: The flowers must remain covered to prevent mold growth. 
  3. Tightly cover the jar and store in a cool, dark place for about one month. 
  4. Remove the flowers and/or strain the oil before use, or you can leave the flowers in the oil, as long as they remain submerged in oil. If desired, add fresh basil flowers to the same oil to strengthen the infusion. 

Brew Basil Tea

Simply add freshly cut basil flowers to a teacup or pot of boiling water, and let steep for several minutes. Strain the tea through a tea strainer or standard kitchen strainer, and enjoy!

Display Them

Don't worry if you've been neglectful and your basil plants have gone to flower. Big flower buds make nice little bouquets! The leaf growth on the plants will perk up soon after you prune back all the flowers, but the old leaves may be a little bitter or bland; just test them to check.