Basil Rosemary Oil
Answered by: Yvonne Tremblay
Question from: Marla Berding
Posted on: September 8, 2003

When is the right time to harvest the leaves of basil? Also I am looking for a delicious recipe for a basil, garlic, and rosemary olive oil blend I can make and bottle for Christmas gifts? Do you have one? My basil plants have already blossomed purple flowers.

Basil leaves may be harvested during the summer as leaves start to get larger (2 to 3 inches in length). You may harvest by pinching off leaves here and there around the plants. When plants are young do not take more than a third of the leaves. Do not remove the tiny leaves that sprout at the base of larger leaves, near the stem. Pinch off the larger leaf if desired but leave the "baby" to mature. When the plants start to produce their flower pods, pinch these off to delay flower/seed production. This will keep the plant producing its flavourful, volatile oils and producing new leaves. It is okay to harvest the leaves after the plant has flowered but do it as soon as possible.

The best time of day to harvest herbs is mid-morning on a warm, dry day. Or, anytime, just before using, to retain the most volatile oils.

Harvest plants at the end of the season before the chance of frost. See the Richters Q&A section for information on Freezing and Drying. Go to and search for "drying basil" and for "freezing basil" and past articles on these topics will come up.

You can make flavourful herb oils for gifts. I use sunflower oil but you may also use canola or safflower oil. I do not like using corn, peanut, or olive oil to make herb oils. I prefer the oil to have a subtle, neutral flavour so that the herb flavour dominates. Make sure you start with fresh oil (smell to ensure the oil has not gone rancid). Place clean, dry herbs (rinsed and blotted dry with paper towel) in a clean jar to about half full. Pour in oil to fill jar. (Do not heat the oil.) Cover (use a plastic lid or place layer of plastic wrap under lid) and store in a cool place or in the refrigerator for about a week. Taste for flavour. If stronger flavour is desired, repeat, using new herbs. Once desired flavour is reached, strain out herbs and discard. Pour infused oil into decorative or other bottle with a cap. Label with name of herb(s). Store in refrigerator up to 6 months. NOTE: Do not add fresh herbs to bottle. You may add dried or ground spices, dried chile peppers, peppercorns or herbs seeds.

For the Basil-Rosemary Oil, try about twice as much basil to rosemary. I recommend that you do not add garlic to the oil. Fresh garlic in oil at room temperature can be a source of botulism. (Clostridium botulinum bacteria produces a virulent toxin. Search the Q&A for "making herbal oil" for details.) Garlic can be added to the oil when it is being used.

For information on/recipes for making herb oils and vinegars, and for amazing recipes, see the preview of my book "Thyme in the Kitchen -- Cooking with Fresh Herbs" at The book is available from Richters.

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