If my basil is bitter ...

Waaaay Down South, GA

Okay, I've been a bad herb Mommy and have let my basil get old and bitter. If I cut it way back will the new leaves come back sweet or do I have to toss the plant and start over? Thanks for your help.
~Elaine~

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

Basil will get bitter when it blooms. Try cutting the plants back to the first sets of leaves and let it grow up again. Be sure to harvest it when the stem gets three sets or leaves (6 leaves total). It will start to set flower buds at the point and you want to cut it back before they appear.

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

My experience is the same as mermaid's. If you cut it way back (preferably below where blooms were forming), the new growth will be tasty again. :-)

Cochise, AZ(Zone 8b)

I start out the season by carefully pinching Basil tips. By this time I am chopping it with my shears and considering using the weed eater. It just goes nuts! But if I'm aggressive enough, it stays tasty!

Waaaay Down South, GA

Thanks y'all. I know I let it get waaay too big. I've gone out there this afternoon and cut it way back, though. It's looking pathetic right now, but I know it won't take long for it to grow back!

Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

Will it be bitter if I catch the buds just as they start?
Basils seem to be something that grows really well out here if you give it water. I've let a few bloom on purpose because I had never seen the flowers before - they are pretty enough and attract some nice bees, so I may plant some as ornamentals next year... but this year I am trying to stay ahead of the bud production :-)

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

I don't think my basil turns bitter right away when the buds start... if I'm not sure, I just take a little nibble before I put the pinched top into my harvest pile. I'm lucky enough to have a whole row of basil doing well this summer, so I can be picky about what leaves make it into my pesto... On the other hand, the bitterness is often not that pronounced and doesn't bother some folks at all. My brother lets his basil plants get huge, then realizes they've started blooming and chops them off at the knees... He just makes a huge batch of pesto then, and he seems to like it fine. (I think my pesto has a better flavor, but that could be just sibling rivalry speaking, LOL.)

Murfreesboro, TN(Zone 7a)

Thanks! I travel a lot with my work, so I'm often gone 2 or 3 days at a time. Drip line on a timer takes care of the watering when I'm not home to hand water (had watering is my therapy) but no one but me will actually go out and look at the veggie garden :-)

Can you believe that I don't cook? My daughter is just dying to visit and use the basil I've been freezing as the only thing I really do with it is make tomato sandwiches. Sacrilige, I know, to grow basil and not cook... but I may just try to make some pesto this year...

I like to take the bud pinchings and rub them all over my hands - since I am alergic no nearly all perfumes, this is "my scent" :-)

Waaaay Down South, GA

Oh what a wonderful smell! Better be careful, though ... someone might decide to take a bite out of you! LOL :-)

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

The basil will start turning the bitter as soon as the buds start to form.
Whether or not the bitterness is noticeable depends on whether or not you have Italian in-laws. LOL! Even if they politely refrain from saying so at dinner, it will be noticed and you will eventually hear from you DH that the family noticed the overgrown basil in the pesto. Consider yourself forewarned!

Waaaay Down South, GA

Well, we have no Italians here, but I can still taste it even though it has put out new leaves. :-) I'm thinking I might just toss it ... or perhaps just grow it as an ortimental and start a new one for cooking. Gotta have my basil, you know! LOL

Frederick, MD(Zone 6b)

LOL, mermaid!

Darn, Elaine, I was hoping that chopping your plant back would work! I've been able to cut back below the flowers and have the bitterness gone from the new growth (at least to my uneducated, non-Italian tongue), but maybe it depends on just how mature the flowers had become?

If anyone you know has a basil plant you could take cuttings from, that's a little quicker than growing from seed... they root in water like mint... put them in a little 2 inch pot (or a smaller cell pack) when they get quarter inch to half inch roots, then transplant to a larger container (or into the garden) when the roots have filled the little pot.

Waaaay Down South, GA

Gee critter, I really did neglect the poor thing for a bit and am now paying the price. I usually keep it pinched off as we use it like crazy but to tell the truth ... haven't been doing a lot of cooking lately. Anyway, I'm going to keep pinching and pampering. who knows, right? I can pick up a little plant at HD or Lowes. They even have the plain sweet basil at our Publix, so I'll probably wait to do seeds this winter. It will give me projects to try in my little greenhouse. :-) I can start them under my grow lights in the house and when they're big enough ... move them outdoors and have a jump on the season. Maybe ... that's the plan anyway. LOL

Lumberton, TX(Zone 8b)

Hopefully it will cool down some soon and we'll all FEEL like cooking!

San Francisco Bay Ar, CA(Zone 9b)

The top two leaves will take on a slightly different shape when the plant is comtemplating blooming. You want to cut it back before that point. Once a blossom bud appears at the base of the leaf, even if only a tiny bump, you're too late.
You could try cutting the plants back a few times without ever letting them get to bud stage and see if the bitterness fades.

Is there any other reason basil would turn bitter besides poor pruning? I prune regularly and they have not budded or flowered, but they are all starting to taste bitter. Any ideas?

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