collage showing fresh basil being propgated in a paper cup then planted in a pot

How to Propagate Basil, Grow and Turn it Into the Most Amazing Pesto

While I came bearing gifts and lunch to celebrate my friend Sharon’s Birthday, I left with a surprise parting gift. She taught me how to propagate basil.

collage showing fresh basil being propgated in a paper cup then planted in a pot

How to propagate basil

As we were walking to my car, I casually reached down to admire her ginormous basil plant. Oh, that earthy, delightful fragrance! With that, she pinched off a couple of stems and suggested that I stick them in water for a few days. “They’ll grow roots, and then you can plant them!”

And that’s exactly what happened just two weeks later, as seen in the photos above. Yes, in a paper cup.

propagate:  to produce a new plant using a parent plant (of a plant or animal) to produce young plants.


Not only did the basil grow massive roots, but those sprigs nearly doubled in size. That’s when I filled a pot with planting soil and gave my little crop of basil a  permanent place to thrive. Soon, I will pinch off a few sprigs to propagate another pot of basil. And who knows? Maybe another and another.

From basil to pesto

If you’ve been around this blog for any time at all, you can predict what’s to follow. I’ve got Christmas on my mind. After all, it is July. It’s time to come up with yet another way to turn summer’s bounty into gifts for the Holidays.

Given how easy it is to grow basil, this year I’ll be making gifts of pesto—specifically Pesto Genovese (peh-sto geh-no-VEH-zeh).

Whether you grow it in your garden or a container (it is so easy and probably not too late in the season to plant) or find it at a produce stand or farmer’s marke—basil is the main ingredient in this gourmet food item.

Pesto will surely please just about everyone on your gift list this holiday season. It’s consumable, unique, and absolutely the right size and color.

Gifts of Pesto

When preparing pesto for gifts, you’ll want to attach a tag with the following:

Pesto Genovese

This all-natural pesto was made in the Genovese style with fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino cheeses.

To Use: Toss with hot pasta, or use as a crostini topping or as a marinade for chicken or fish. Keep refrigerated and use within one week. Enjoy!

Now that I know how to propagate basil (so easy), I’m ready to try using this super fun technique with other herbs—perhaps even onions and garlic too!

Homemade pesto sauce with basil and pine nuts in white mortar over old wooden table
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4.67 from 3 votes

Pesto Genovese

Traditionally, Pesto Genovese is made with a marble mortar and pestle because the steel blades of the food processor tend to bruise the basil, making it very dark green and slightly bitter. But it’s long and tiring work with the mortar and pestle. But not to worry! This recipe uses a food processor plus a few tricks involving ice. In 15 minutes you will have a very delicious pesto sauce, bright green and tasty—not at all bitter!
Prep Time15 minutes
Chill Tools15 minutes
Total Time30 minutes
Course: Condiment, sauce
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 1 cup
Calories: 199kcal


  • 60-65 small basil leaves (50 gr. or 2 oz.)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin oil
  • 6 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (70 gr. or 2.5 oz. tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons Pecorino cheese cut into small pieces (30 gr. 1 oz.)
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled
  • 1 tablespoon pine nuts (15 gr., or 5 oz.)
  • 1/8 teaspoon coarse salt, or to taste (sea salt, kosher salt)
  • ice


  • Place the bowl and blades of a food processor in the refrigerator or freezer until the tools are very cold, about 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, get the basil leaves ready by washing them in cold water.
  • Place the clean basil in a large bowl with plenty of ice for 3-4 minutes.
  • Remove leaves from the ice and dry them very well in a kitchen towel. Important: The basil leaves must be very dry.
  • Remove bowl and blades from the refrigerator or freezer and place basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, and grated Parmigiano in the food processor bowl.
  • Pulse a few seconds in the food processor.
  • Add salt and Pecorino cheese to the bowl.
  • Blend all ingredients in the food processor for about 1 minute.
  • Add olive oil to the bowl and blend for about 5 minutes at medium speed, and at intervals: blend a few seconds, stop and start again until you see a creamy green pesto sauce. Work quickly as you do not want the pesto to heat up.
  • Serve Pesto Genovese over pasta (you may want to add a tablespoon or so of the pasta water to the Pesto to thin it out a bit, as needed) or as a spread on toasted bread as an appetizer. Yield: About 1 cup; 6 servings. 33 cal per serving.
  • Store Pesto Genovese in the refrigerator, in an airtight container for 2-3 days, taking care to cover the sauce with a layer of extra virgin olive oil.
  • It's possible to freezer pesto in small jars, again covered with a thin layer of olive oil, and then defrost it in the refrigerator or at room temperature.


1. If you do not have a food processor you can make this recipe in a blender using the setting “puree.”
2. This recipe multiplies well, but do not try to make more than a double batch in a blender, or triple in a food processor.
3. This recipe multiplies well, but do not try to make more than a double batch in a blender, or triple in a food processor.
4. Pesto may be made several days in advance and kept refrigerated in an airtight container until ready to use. If making in advance, be sure to cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of olive oil to prevent the pesto from darkening. Pesto may also be frozen in the same manner in small quantities for use at a later date.
5. Keep frozen at 0ºF or below. Frozen shelf life is one year. When thawed and kept refrigerated at 40°F, product has a shelf life of ten days.


Calories: 199kcal | Carbohydrates: 1g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 5mg | Sodium: 149mg | Potassium: 22mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 250IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 86mg | Iron: 1mg



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16 replies
  1. Laura says:

    It seems like it would be easier to put the basil leaves in the refrigerator for a while to get them cold. It seems like they’d be at room temperature by the time they were dried completely if they were in ice.

  2. kdonat says:

    If you happen to have basil planted outdoors and it has started to get leggy, with leaves only near the tip, you can weight the stem down on the soil with a rock or other type of weight and it will root and send up more shoots all along the stem. Do keep the area moist until well it is well rooted, then you can remove the rocks/weights to use another time.

    Use fresh Basil to flavor a simple syrup. Pour over summer’s stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries) as a fruit salad, or use the flavored syrup to sweeten iced tea.

  3. teri says:

    I would love to make this pesto, but I don’t have a food processor….Mary, do you know if it can be made in a blender? thanks!

  4. Cynfi says:

    I saw 2 mistakes. Sorry i am a bit of a English teacher. Or was in my previous life. In your notes look at 1 and 2. Also you put 1/2 cup extra virgin? Do you mean oil?

  5. Diane Vosburg says:

    I make pesto in batches with just basil, garlic, salt and oil. Then I freeze in ice cube trays and pop them out frozen into a freezer bag. When I want to use pesto in a recipe I take out the right number of cubes to use. If I want cheese and pine nuts I add them to thawed pesto. I’ve done this with other herbs, such as rosemary, cilantro and flat leaf parsley. Delish!

    • Betty Thomas says:

      5 stars
      Diane, policing Mary’s post had to take some of the joy out of the information. We all make errors but having them pointed out is really not necessary nor is it your job. Now just go back and read it with the heart of receiving the Gift Mary gives us all daily.

      • Betty Thomas says:

        Sorry Diane, that reply was meant for Cynfi! This just solidifies my reply, we ALL make errors!

    • Bonnie says:

      You can definitely make pesto with different herbs and nuts. I made one with garlic scapes that I got at the farmers market and walnuts. If you toast the nuts first, it adds a lot of flavor. I also use part olive oil and part water to cut the calories.

      • Betty Thomas says:

        Garlic scape pesto sounds wonderful. Thank you for the idea! Baby spinach makes lovely pesto too.

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