Basil 101: Growing Tips + 28 Recipes

You've made Caprese salad and pesto, but what next? Get the most out of basil season with these 28 basil recipes + my best growing tips!


After a few years of trial and error, Jack and I can safely say that, as long as you have access to a good sunny spot, growing basil is something everyone can do. More importantly, I think that it’s something everyone should do, especially if you enjoy cooking. Buying those small packets of herbs in the store is far more expensive than growing your own, and I’ve found that when I have basil, thyme, and mint right outside my back door, I toss them onto everything. Growing herbs has become my go-to strategy for making easy meals into elevated ones – a handful of fresh herbs can transform a simple pizza or pasta into something bright, flavorful, and delicious.

Growing Basil – My Best Tips

If you’re thinking about starting to grow basil, here are a few pointers I’ve learned over the last few summers:

  • It’s cold-sensitive, so if you’re growing your plants outside like we do, you don’t want to start too early in the season. Make sure you’re clear of any major temperature dips before getting your plantings going.
  • Grow it from transplants. If you have a good greenhouse nearby, pick up a few starter plants there rather than growing your herbs from seed. You can also often find transplants at the farmers market. We’ve had success this way – it’s easier to focus on keeping the plants alive than getting them going – and you can start using the leaves much faster.
  • Don’t forget to water them – or not. Last year, Jack watered our plants 1-2 times per day. This year, we’ve had SO much rain, we’ve hardly had to water them at all – we actually worried about overwatering from the rain alone! Just make sure the soil around the plant is moist, and if it’s not, water around its roots.
  • Pinch off leaves right at the stem so the plant will create branches and produce more leaves. We had two plants last year, and they produced leaves from June-October!
  • If your plants flower, pinch them off. This way, the plants will put energy into creating more leaves, as opposed to flowers and seeds. I actually like to eat the basil flowers – try sprinkling them over salads or pastas for extra-concentrated basil flavor.

What are your best growing tips? Let me know in the comments!

Basil Pesto Recipe

How to Use Basil

As I said above, basil is cold-sensitive, so pick it right before you want to use it. Otherwise, store stalks at room temperature in a glass of water. You can also freeze it for longer storage – read more about freezing herbs on page 94 of Love & Lemons Every Day.

When you’re ready to use it, your options are endless. Of course, if you’re looking for basil recipes, pesto has to be your #1. Stir it into pasta, slather it on sandwiches or toast, top it onto eggs, drizzle it over salads, or dollop it onto grilled veggies. Rich, nutty, and bright, it automatically kicks any dish up a notch.

Otherwise, basil goes especially well with Asian or Italian flavors, so toss it into a stir fry or make a classic caprese salad. Here are some other everyday ways to use it:

  • Top whole leaves onto pizza.
  • Finish pasta with whole or thinly sliced leaves.
  • Blend it into sauces.
  • Puree it into soups.
  • Chop it up to add to a salad.
  • Use it to garnish avocado toast.
  • Turn it into an ice cream topping! Jazz up vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries, basil, and a balsamic reduction.

Want more ideas? Below are a few of my favorite basil recipes to get you started.

Basil Appetizer Recipes

Get any meal off to a fresh, summery start by making a basil-forward appetizer. Add it to summer rolls & blend it into a dipping sauce to go with them, puree it into a cool soup, or slide it onto simple caprese skewers.

1. Avocado Summer Rolls

Summer rolls with basil

2. Basil & Zucchini Soup

Zucchini basil soup recipe

3. Caprese Peach Skewers

Appetizer basil recipes

Sandwiches & Toasts

If you have a few sprigs of basil on hand that you don’t know what to do with, you can never go wrong by topping them onto avocado toast. I’ll also add whole leaves straight to sandwiches or blend them into a creamy spread to make a vibrant, hearty vegetarian sandwich filling.

4. Strawberry Basil Avocado Toast

Avocado toast with basil

5. Tomato, Basil & Artichoke Picnic Sandwich

Basil sandwich recipes

6. Chickpea Pan Bagnat Sandwiches

Chickpea Pan Bagnat Sandwiches with basil

Pasta & Grain Recipes

You couldn’t compile a list of basil recipes without including a grain and pasta section. We all love pesto pasta, but you can take nearly any pasta dish or grain bowl to the next level by adding a handful of fresh herbs. Here are just a few of my favorites.

7. Quick & Easy Pesto Pasta

Basil pesto pasta

8. One Pot Penne Pasta

One Pot Vegetable Penne Pasta with basil

9. Orzo with Lemon, Herbs & Summer Vegetables

Basil orzo

10. Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese

Basil recipes

11. Roasted Vegetable Pasta

Roasted vegetable pasta with basil

12. Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Basil pasta recipes

13. Creamy Pasta Pomodoro

Pasta with basil

14. Mango Ginger Rice Bowl

Basil rice bowl

Pizza Basil Recipes

Fresh basil is a pizza essential! I like to blend it into pesto to dollop on generously along with the veggie toppings. I also almost always finish pizzas with a few whole leaves. Be sure to add these right before serving so that they don’t get brown and lose their flavor in the oven.

15. Summer Blackberry Pizza

Blackberry basil pizza

16. The Best Vegan Pizza

Pizza with basil

17. Herb Garden Zucchini Pizza

Basil pizza

Salad Recipes

Once you start adding fresh herbs to your salads, you won’t look back. They add delicious, intense, and unexpected notes to any combination of fruits & veggies. In each of the recipes below, the addition of fresh basil leaves makes the final salad really shine.

18. Grilled Corn Salad

Basil Salad Recipes

19. Watermelon Salad with Feta

Watermelon Salad with Feta and Basil

20. Cherry Tomato Couscous Salad

Cherry Tomato Basil Salad

21. Spicy Watermelon Tomato Salad

Basil Salad Recipes

22. Pattypan Squash Panzanella

Summer Basil Recipes

23. Summer Panzanella Salad 

Peach and basil panzanella

24. Summer Asian Slaw

Basil recipes

25. Strawberry Caprese Salad

Strawberry Basil Salad

26. Easy Pasta Salad

Pasta Salad with Basil Leaves

Basil Recipes for Dessert

With its sweet, fresh flavor, basil is a wonderful unexpected addition to desserts, especially when it’s paired with summer fruits. Try stirring it into the filling of strawberry shortcake or blending it into a berry sorbet. Or keep things simple – just sprinkle it over berries with a dollop of coconut cream.

27. Strawberry Shortcake

Strawberry Basil Shortcake

28. Raspberry Basil Blender Sorbet, page 253, Love & Lemons Every Day

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Basil 101: Pesto

rate this recipe:
5 from 15 votes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Serves 1 cup
A classic pesto recipe. Check out
this post for more pesto variations.



  • In a food processor, combine the pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and several grinds of pepper. Pulse until well chopped.
  • Add the basil and pulse until combined.
  • With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil and pulse until combined. Add the Parmesan cheese, if using, and pulse to briefly combine. For a smoother pesto, add more olive oil.



5 from 15 votes (13 ratings without comment)

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Rate this recipe (after making it)

  1. shonell

    Basil is indeed a fantastic herb to grow, and I couldn’t agree more with your tips and the value of having fresh herbs right at your doorstep. It truly elevates any dish.

    Your tips for growing basil are on point, especially the advice about starting at the right time and watering needs. For many, basil is a culinary staple, and your suggestions for using it are spot on, from pesto to various dishes. It’s such a versatile herb that it can enhance both Italian and Asian flavors.

    I appreciate your recipe ideas, and I’ll definitely try some of them. Basil and zucchini soup sounds delightful! Thank you for sharing your wisdom on basil, both in the garden and in the kitchen. 🌿🍽️

    • Phoebe Moore (L&L Recipe Developer)

      Hi, So glad you enjoyed the post. I hope you love the recipes!

  2. BooBee

    I put handfuls in a food processor with olive oil. make a paste. throw into a freezer bag. flatten it. throw it into freezer. and break off bits as I need it for cooking. I add nothing else.

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Love it, thanks for the tip!

  3. Clyde

    I live in Central Ohio. You are very right to not plant basil too early. If you have to, then put some clear plastic down a week or two ahead to get the soil warm. The best time to pick basil is when the nights are warm and it is slightly dry out. That is when the full flavor comes out. This may be in late July or early August. If you wait too long, the leaves will turn bitter. Pick the leaves and make pesto and freeze it. Freezing actually improves the pesto. After that, let them go to seed. Seeds are great for herbal vinegar–fresh basil doesn’t work as well as seeds.

  4. pauline

    I really like all your ideas for Basil.
    You have provided some excellent ideas and receipes for basil. I am growing my own plants in my back yard

  5. Gigi

    I planted a 3″ tall basil in my garden in March it’s now june and its grown up to 3 feet ( big problem, ikr…) I’m randomly trimming them but don’t use the basil as often, so my question is how should I store the bunch I’ve trimmed? Can I freeze it? Or will that ruin the flavor?

    • Eileen

      I’ve tried to do just that for the first time. I took a large bunch, washed, trimmed and then blanched in boiling water for a few seconds, then quickly into ice water. This preserves the dark green color. let them dry after a few minutes in the ice water, and then lay the leaves out on parchment paper, roll it up, and put it in a ziplock. It’s in the freezer now….I wish I could tell you the outcome, but from what I have read, this is the 1st choice way to freeze it. Doesn’t hurt to try if you have a large plant, right? Good luck!

  6. Rom

    5 stars
    This looks amazing do you have any other blogs

  7. Sara Hooper

    Maybe I’ve been underwatering mine?? I grow everything & basil is always a BIG fail. It always gets super stalky not lush & leaves are small.

  8. Sabrina from

    nice basil growing tips, I’ll hope for the best with my very non-green thumb, bu really appreciate all of these basil recipes!

  9. cindy

    First of all, You’re Fantastic!!!!! I LOVE to cook and you are the only person I’ve ever followed that I like nearly 100% of all your recipes! I LOVE that. In fact, I don’t eat much sweet anything so I’m sure those recipes are super good too. The recent French Toast recipe you posted looked fabulous!

    So, I really want to grow basil and mint on my little 3rd floor apartment patio. Do you have any recommendations for pots? Does it matter? Plastic, clay, …??

    • Jeanine Donofrio

      Hi Cindy, thank you! I’m so glad you’ve been enjoying the recipes! I’d go for a clay pot, I think the soil stays most hydrated that way… get one that’s a bit bigger than the basil plant so it has the chance to grow and spread out.

      • Christina Wilcke

        5 stars
        Great information Thanks so much and my Basil in a clay pot does extremely well…

A food blog with fresh, zesty recipes.
Photograph of Jeanine Donofrio and Jack Mathews in their kitchen

Hello, we're Jeanine and Jack.

We love to eat, travel, cook, and eat some more! We create & photograph vegetarian recipes from our home in Chicago, while our shiba pups eat the kale stems that fall on the kitchen floor.