Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an annual culinary herb used extensively in Italian cuisine. Growing to heights of 2 to 3 feet, this frost-intolerant herb grows best in hot and dry conditions. Many people that grow basil harvest the leaves on an as-needed basis. Depending upon the size of the basil plant, use hedge trimmers or scissors to snip off the leaves. According to the National Gardening Association, basil should be harvested as late in the day as possible.
Water the basil plant's foliage the evening prior to harvesting. This will remove dust and insects and allow the plant to dry prior to cutting.
Cut the basil plant above the second set of leaves. Repeat this procedure every three to four weeks. This will encourage the basil plant to grow bushier, discourage flowering and provide a larger harvest.
Pick individual basil leaves from the plant as you need them. Pinch them off with your fingers, directly above another set of leaves.
Cut off all flowers as the plant produces them. If left to set seed, the basil plant will cease producing leaves. Cut the entire stem off with the flower.