Growing Basil Plants Just Like My Ancestors Did

By Laura Miller | January 18, 2021
Image by Warren_Price
by Laura Miller
January 18, 2021

A century ago, my grandfather left his home and family in Italy to come to America. It took a decade before my grandmother and their children could join him. As we look at our highly connected world today, it’s hard to imagine a time when cell phones and computers didn’t exist and overseas phone calls were reserved for government officials.

But my grandparents brought more with them to this new land than a few scanty possessions and a love so deep it survived a ten-year separation. They brought their culture. And part of that culture was growing basil plants. 

I love using fresh basil in the kitchen. The aromatic leaves are a perfect complement to any dish with tomatoes or fresh mozzarella cheese. Yet, growing basil plants outdoors is limited to a few months out of the year. This culinary herb is very sensitive to cold. The first night the temperature drops into the low 40 degree F. (4 C.) range, basil grown outdoors turns black. 

The solution is to grow basil indoors so those scrumptious leaves can be enjoyed year-round. But it takes nearly two months before basil started from seeds is ready for harvest. I lack the patience for this. Instead, I grow basil from store-bought plants.

This gardening trick to grow basil indoors can produce usable-sized basil leaves in half the time. I start by purchasing a bundle of fresh-cut basil or a live basil plant. Both are usually located in the grocery store’s produce department. To prevent wilting, I place the fresh-cut herbs in a glass of water or keep the soil of a live basil plant moist.

Growing Basil From Grocery Store Cuttings

Before I attempt to grow basil from cuttings, I first use some of the bigger leaves in my culinary creations. In reality, only a cluster of the smaller leaves at the tips of the stems are needed when growing basil from grocery store cuttings or plants. Then I follow these steps to grow basil from cuttings:

  • Take 4 to 6 inch (10 to15 cm.) cuttings from a store-bought basil plant or trim the dried ends from pre-cut basil stems.
  • Place stems in a glass of room-temperature water and set it in a sunny window. (I like to use a clear glass so I can easily see when the stems begin to root.)
  • Check the water level in the glass daily and add or change the water as needed.
  • Once the cuttings have grown several roots, pot the basil cuttings in a container using a good-quality potting soil. If the bag of potting soil doesn’t indicate it’s been sterilized, I place the soil in an oven-safe roaster and heat it to 180 degrees F. (82 C.). This prevents an indoor infestation of plant pests.

When I grow basil from store-bought cuttings, I like to give the new basil plant two to three weeks to become established before harvesting leaves. This technique for growing basil from grocery store plants can also be applied to other types of herbs.

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