Basil: The Supreme Herb

It’s safe to say basil reigns supreme in the herb world.  Not only does it pack a huge punch of flavour in sweet desserts and savory dishes, it is also a trusted cure for many ailments.[1]  It is worshipped as a saint in India[2] and was once glorified as a guardian of the dead in ancient Egypt.  Whether you’re using basil to make pesto, medicinally, or simply feel like worshiping it as an almighty herb, there is one basil secret every herb-lover should know.  You can grow an endless supply of basil from just one plant!  In this article, I will unlock the key to basil’s immortality.  Well… at least an endless supply all growing season.

Plant Hormones

The secret to producing big, bushy basil plants is pruning.  Pruned basil will grow stronger and healthier as a survival strategy.  In its natural environment, basil stems can become damaged by strong winds or animals frolicking over them.  When these unfortunate events happen, the plant “reacts” by branching out, generating new stems and leaves.

Why does the basil plant react?  Because of plant hormones (aka phytohormones).  “Auxins” are phytohormones that control rooting, stem elongation, and directional growth.[3]  When you prune the main stem of a basil plant, auxins stop working on growing the main stalk and redistribute the auxins to the offshoots and stalks farther down the plant.

How to Prune Basil

When your basil seedlings are 4 to 6 inches tall and have several sets of leaves, it’s time to give them their first haircut.[4]  Using trimming scissors, snip off the top portion of the stem and top leaves.  Make sure that you are snipping above a “node”.  The node is a sweet-spot where two leaves are growing out of the main stem – snip right above those tiny leaves.  After a relentless snip, those little leaves will grow into two large branches of their own, creating a bushy basil plant.

Each time a stem of your basil plant is pruned, it will produce two stems over the course of a week or so – doubling your yield every time you prune it!  I would like to mention that this pruning method applies to all varieties of basil, potted or planted outdoors.  If you prune your basil plant frequently during its growth, you will be well on your way to a very productive, successful growing adventure… and pesto season!


[1] Uncover the secret to basil’s flavor and healing qualities,
[2] What you need to know about this sacred herb from India, USA Today
[3] Chalker-Scott, L. How Plants Work, 2015 Timber Press, Inc.
[4] How to Grow Bushy Basil, Homestead and Chill