I have my fair share of pet peeves – people who spit in public, wet sponges left in sinks, your dog's huge balls that should have been chopped off, cops that don’t use turn signals…the list truly go on and on.
I would like to take the time now to prevent future sighs and eye rolling at one of my pet peeves that is somewhat of culinary concern – improperly harvested basil! Trivial? Yes, but…
This post was prompted by a severely stripped basil plant sitting outside a Philly coffee shop that will remain unnamed. I wouldn’t have noticed the plant – ok, I would have – if not for an employee that came out to harvest some of the last few leaves remaining on the plant to construct their mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwiches.
I engaged the employee in conversation, all the while hoping the conversation would lead to why the plant looked so poor. I could have just blurted out why the plant had almost no leaves, and I often do blurt out what is on my mind without thinking of tact, but I didn’t want to seem like a crass know-it-all. Pleasant guy, but he didn't seem concerned about the plant.
Don't do this.
When pinching basil leaves, don’t pinch off individual leaves, or grab a hunk and indiscriminately pull. If you do this, you will strip the plant of leaves without encouraging new growth. To harvest basil and encourage new growth, pinch the stem right above a set of leaves. You want to harvest the tips of the stems, not individual leaves.
I have no computer graphics skills.
- Plants put on new growth from buds at the tips or tops of the plant. These buds are apical buds, and have apical dominance. These buds will always be dominant, and be the place of new growth, unless...
- If the apical bud is cut, pinched, or damaged, plants can also put on new growth from axillary buds at the base of leaves. These axillary buds stay dormant until the apical bud is cut, pinched, or damaged. (This is the basis of all pruning.)
- By pinching basil right above the node (leaf and axillary bud), you have removed the dominant apical (top) bud, and sent a message to the plant to push new growth from the axillary bud.
- Wrong Way - Pinch directly underneath a node or in the middle of the internode (stem between the leaves and buds), and the plant does not get as strong of a message that the axillary bud should kick into growth. This is the scenario that happens when you just grab and pull.
- Right Way - Pinch or cut basil directly above the node to encourage new growth. Once substantial new growth develops, pinch (harvest) the new tips to encourage further growth and branching. If you continue this, you will have a rounder, fuller plant...that actually has leaves on it!
As the plant continues to grow, the once baby leaves and stems grow in size. What once was a dormant bud is now a large stem with leaves (out of the picture) all along it.