How to save basil seeds

Wondering how to save basil seeds? These tiny seeds are easy to grow at home.

Start with an open-pollinated basil variety like classic Genovese basil. Let the plants flower and grow seed pods as the flowers age. When the seed pods at the bottom of the flower spike are brown, clip off the whole sprig and set out to dry. Seeds usually rub out of the pods with your fingers, over a fine metal mesh sieve, or by gentle hand threshing. Use a bowl so that the seeds settle to the bottom while the chaff rises.

Read on to learn how to save basil seeds!

How to save basil seeds
How to save basil seeds

How to save basil seeds

Basil seeds are relatively easy to grow and harvest at home. Start with an open-pollinated variety of basil, such as Genovese Basil, Lemon Basil, Cinnamon Basil, or Blue Spice Basil.

Young basil plants send up a flower stalk during the long days and high temperatures of summer. The plants are pollinated by insects and then form seed pods, with the pods at the bottom of the flower stalk (raceme) maturing first.

Trimming off flower racemes as they start to turn brown
How to save basil seeds

Harvesting basil seed pods

Keep an eye on the progress of the seed pods. When most/all of the flowers have bloomed, and the bottom seed pods have turned brown, it’s time to clip off the flower stalk. Use clean, sharp pruners or kitchen scissors to slice off the flower stalk down near a set of leaves. The plant will usually continue growing leaves and more flower stalks throughout the summer.

Collecting the tiny seeds

Set the flower stalks out to dry in a dark location with good airflow. Try to keep them out of direct sunlight, and consider keeping them on some sort of dish to catch any tiny seeds that happen to fall out of the pods.

Dried basil seed pods
How to save basil seeds

The seeds can be harvested once the basil seed pods have dried. Pods can be rubbed between your fingers to release the seeds or shaken over a fine metal mesh sieve. Some people also use a gentle threshing action with their hands to release the seeds.

Use a bowl so that the seeds settle to the bottom while the chaff (pieces of pod and other light materials) rises. You can then pour off the chaff and save the seeds.

Purchase open pollinated basil seeds to start with
Start with an open-pollinated variety of basil

Basil seed development

Basil is in the Mint Family (Lamiaceae). This family of plants is known for their aromatic value as herbs, as well as their enthusiastic growing habit.

Most culinary basil is of the species Ocimum americanum, also known as sweet basil. Sweet Basil (Ocimum americanum) is an annual plant that completes its whole life cycle within one year. Other basil species are usually annual, but some perennial basil species exist in the Ocimum family.

Basil plants grow their seeds on tall flower stalks that tend to appear in midsummer. Each flower on the stalk has both male and female parts. Cross-pollination by insects is common. Basil inbreeds, so you’ll need to keep different varieties isolated from one another, either mechanically or by distance.

“Different varieties can be cross-pollinated by insects, but isolation of 150′ will maintain seed purity. Alternate day caging can also be used, which would allow two or possibly more varieties to be grown simultaneously.”

Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, by Suzanne Ashworth

Storing basil seeds

Wait until basil seeds have air-dried completely prior to storing them. The seeds do need a tiny bit of moisture, but ambient air humidity is usually quite enough. Too much moisture can encourage mold growth and loss of viability.

“Making sure that seeds are properly dry before storing them is the most important step that a seed saver can take to ensure that seeds will remain viable for more than one season. Seeds stored with a high moisture content have a higher preparation rate, use more stored resources, and generally age more rapidly than seeds stored with a lower moisture content.”

The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving, by Micaela Colley and Jared Zystro

Packaging basil seeds for storage

Before storing basil seeds, package them up individually in a small labeled packet. This can be a paper envelope or a small glass jar. The packet should be labeled with the name of the variety, as well as the date that the seeds were harvested.

Storing basil seeds

Basil seeds can be stored in a cool, dark, and dry location. A refrigerator is ideal. If you don’t have space in your fridge, a dark cupboard or drawer will also work, as well as a dry, cool basement.

Storage life of basil seeds

Basil seeds typically remain viable for about five years when stored properly in home storage conditions.

Planting basil seeds

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow from seed. The tiny seeds germinate well at room temperature but take 7-14 days to sprout. Light is essential for basil seed germination, so use plant light if the plants are not exposed to natural sunlight.

Most gardeners just plant the seeds in the basil’s future growing pot, but you can plant trays of seedlings if you wish to transplant a large amount of basil into your outdoor garden. You can also grow your own basil microgreens for a flavorful and attractive garnish!

FAQs about saving basil seeds

What can you do with basil once it’s gone to seed?

You can generally save viable seeds from basil plants that have gone to seed if the variety of basil is open-pollinated. Many varieties sold as seedlings are hybrids, and the seeds won’t grow true-to-type, but there are lots of great heirloom varieties too that usually breed true.

How do you separate basil seeds?

Basil seeds can be tricky to separate out of their tiny dried seed pods. Each little seed pod usually contains four seeds, although you may not be able to get them all out!
Make sure your seed pods are totally dry before trying to separate out the seeds. Then either rub them on a hard surface or over a fine mesh sieve.
Collect all the little bits of plant matter into a bowl and gently shake it back and forth. The seeds are the most dense and should settle to the bottom of the bowl. The lighter empty seed pods and chaff should rise to the top and you can grab little bits and remove it as you gently shake the seed bowl.

Can you freeze basil seeds?

You should only freeze basil seeds if the seeds have a very low moisture content. The seeds need a tiny bit of moisture to remain viable, but any excess moisture could potentially burst the plant cells when it expands as it freezes. Only freeze basil seeds that are quite dry to reduce the risk of damage.
For maximum seed viability, package the basil seeds in small packets inside a sealed plastic or glass container. When thawing the seeds, take the whole container out of the freezer and place it out to come to room temperature. Letting the contents of the jar slowly reach room temperature before breaking the seal can lessen cellular damage.

Resources

Here are a few helpful resources for more information:

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also an engineer and certified permaculture garden designer. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.