Basil flowers are beautiful to look at, smell gorgeous and attract bees and other beneficial insects. It is tempting to leave the flowers on because they look so pretty, but removing them encourages the plant to put its energy into continuing to produce abundant leaves for longer – for salads, pesto, preserving and summer cooking.
I pinch the flowers heads out using my fingernails or a knife, removing any damaged leaves at the same time. The more ‘gone over’, seedy flower heads and damaged leaves go in the compost bucket but the fresher flowers are put in a trug and saved for the kitchen. I try to use as much of every plant as I can, avoiding waste as much as possible so these recipes offer ways of using something that is usually composted right away and making something fragrant or delicious.
What can you do with basil flowers?
Sprinkle on summer salads – use whole tender buds or remove the tiny individual flowers: colourful and flavourful. Lemon and lime basil is especially delicious on a fruit salad.
Dry them – to use in potpourri, crushed as a seasoning or to make herbal teas.
Gather into small bunches, tie with string and hang in an airy place. I would usually dry them somewhere darker than this, in the airing cupboard or understairs cupboard, but those places were a bit dark for a photo so these are in my kitchen.
Or dry on a herb drying rack. When dry, crush between your fingers or in a pestle and mortar to use as a culinary herb, then store in a labelled jar. For potpourri, add to other dried flowers and herbs and pour into little fabric bags to fragrance drawers or in bowls around your home.
For a quick homemade herb drying rack, line plastic mushroom crates with muslin, tea towels or kitchen roll. They have lots of holes to allow air to circulate, can be stacked easily and are usually free from greengrocers.
Make basil flower oil
Put the flowers into a glass jar
Pour on olive oil until the flowers are completely submerged. I pushed the leaves down in this jar and then topped it up before putting a lid on.
You need to make sure that all of the flowers are submerged in the oil so that they don’t go mouldy. A preserving weight can be useful here. Leave in a cool place, checking daily for 1-2 weeks, depending how strongly flavoured you would like the oil to be.
(The clips are to stop the lid falling off, this is one of my canning jars.)
When ready, drain through a fine sieve or muslin (compost the flowers) and store in a clean jar or bottle. It makes delicious dressings and marinades.
This oil is not for storing – use within 3 months.
Make basil flower vinegar
This is similar to making basil flower oil. Here I also added leaves that had come off when I picked the flowers – mostly from lemon and lime scented basils.
It makes fantastic salad dressings and is nice on chips too.
Add flowers to the jar and pour on white wine vinegar. Push the flowers down a bit and add more vinegar until it fully covered the basil. Put the lid on and leave in a cool place, checking regularly, for a week or two. Strain as above and bottle.