Usually, when people eat basil, they prefer the leaves. This pretty much explains 95% of culinary basil use. For the remaining 5%, there are some gourmets as well as artisan chefs that swear by the distinctive aroma and texture of basil flowers.
The good news is that basil flowers are quite edible. It all depends on how mature they are.
You Can Eat Basil Flowers. The Question is, Should You?
Well, it depends on what dishes you use in the grid and how mature the flowers are.
Should You Let Your Basil Plant Blossom?
The first question that you need to ask yourself when it comes to harvesting basil flowers for your recipes is whether this is a good idea or not.
If you have been raising basil for even a short period of time, you would know that the moment flowers develop on your basil plant, your basil plant starts to change.
Before, you could look forward to really fragrant, fluffy and tender leaves. You just love pinching them or adding them to your soup or just munching on them. They’re that easy to handle and this is what you planted basil for in the first place.
Well, a lot of that goes away the moment your basil plant develops flowers. And if you let the flowers mature into seed pods, you are basically looking at pretty much a different plant. Seriously.
If your idea of a basil plant is a fairly succulent plant that you can just pinch off parts anywhere, you’re going to be looking at a different plant because once a basil gives off flowers and those flowers turn into seeds, it becomes woody. It’s like a shrub almost and the leaves are no longer as fragrant as before, nor are they as tender.
In fact, it would seem that a lot of the taste that you’ve been counting on is basically gone. And all of this is brought by the internal biochemical changes triggered by allowing the plant to develop flowers.
This is why a lot of basil gardeners are always on the lookout for any flower buds. Once they see these buds come up in certain parts of the branches of their basil plants, alarm bells go off. They spring into action. They just nip the flowers literally in the bud because they don’t want their basil, as sweet, succulent and tender as they are, to turn into essentially almost woody shrubs.
But if you are looking to raise basil for edible flowers, you can. Understand that you basically are going to have to let go of its leaves because its leaves are not going to be as tender as before. You basically are just growing the plant for its flowers.
Basil Flowers are Edible, But Texture Varies
While it’s true that you can eat basil flowers pretty much throughout their whole life cycle, you have to also consider texture. Because when you harvest basil flowers too late, they’re almost ready to produce seed and they can be very tough. There might be some cellulose-heavy portions inside that may feel a bit too tough as you bite down on them.
As a rule of thumb, it’s generally a good idea to harvest basil flowers when they have just begun to transition from buds. So, the moment they start producing petals, that would be a good time because they’re tender enough, and at the same time they have their distinct flavor so you get the best of both worlds. But the longer you wait past this point, the tougher the texture will get.
Some people would love the extra crunchiness, while a lot more don’t care for it. So, it really all boils down to your personal taste and the timing of your edible basil flower harvest.
Harvesting Basil Flowers
Many experienced growers find that allowing the basil to bloom won’t alter the plant’s edible characteristics suddenly just as long as they pinch the flowers off as soon as possible.
Lusher leaf growth will continue as it did before. The trick is not to let the flowers linger on the plant for too long.
Fortunately, for most tastes, this is when the flower is most tender and palatable. You can snip the entire flowering branch off without detaching the petals from the stamen or even the whole flower from its stem. With the flowers gone, the plant’s focus will shift back to growing new leaves, and it will become bushier.
Ways of Consuming Basil Flowers
Depending on your basil’s breed, the flowers may be pink, purple, or white. Sweet basil is one of the most popular varieties of homegrown basil, and it has a white-colored flower. Of course, not all basil varieties taste the same, and the same goes for their flowers. It’s up to you to determine which one is your favorite.
Since basil is a very edible plant, you can add the entire flowering top to the dish you’re cooking. For salads, you can add the flowers with their stems still intact and toss them with the other greens. They are also great for garnishing your favorite meals like pasta, pizzas, cheeses, or even meat and other vegetables.
Basil flower oil is simply olive oil enhanced with basil flower flavor. Wash the flowers and pat them dry, then drop them in a clean glass jar and fill it with olive oil. You can also make basil flower vinegar for use in salad dressings. It’s the same procedure, only this time you add vinegar instead of olive oil and let it sit for a week before you start using it. It will ensure that the flower’s flavor would totally infuse with the vinegar.
Another way you can enjoy basil flowers is by brewing basil tea. Cut the flowers into tiny pieces and drop them into a pot of boiling water. Allow it to steep for several minutes, after which you can pour it through a strainer, and there you have your delicious basil tea.