What Is Eating My Basil Plant Leaves?

Nothing is worse than having unwelcome insect pests in your herb garden.

After months of caring for your beautiful, flourishing basil plant, these nasty bugs can come in and destroy plant leaves and herbs in a matter of days!

When I notice insects are eating my basil, I know I have to act fast.

If you’re experiencing the same situation, you should minimize the damage and get your basil plants and herbs healthy again by following my tips below.

How to Get Rid of Insect Pests on Your Basil Plants

Step 1: Identify the Culprit

Before anything else, find out which type of bug is attacking your basil plant. Examine your basil plant leaves frequently and observe the insects crawling around on them.

This may mean checking your basil plants very early in the morning or late at night—sometimes, the pests only appear at certain times of the day, so you have to catch them in the act.

It may be helpful to use a flashlight or a magnifying glass while doing this, especially if the insects are very small. Don’t forget to check underneath the basil leaves as well, as the bugs could be hiding there.

Usually, bugs that appear in the daytime are Japanese beetles, aphids, and other soft-bodied insects. Earwigs are nighttime pests, while caterpillars and spider mites are present throughout the whole day.

Another way to determine the culprit is to look at the type and extent of damage of your basil plant leaves.

If your basil resembles lace, with large bites and ragged holes, you’re probably dealing with slugs and/or snails.

Leafhoppers and aphids leave small punctures along the underside of the basil leaves. Meanwhile, Japanese beetles gnaw on everything but the larger veins of the basil plant.

Still don’t know which pest is on your basil? It helps to search up images online or to ask for help on gardening forums by posting photos of the evidence.

If all else fails, you can call on a professional gardener for his expert advice and services.

Step 2: Deal With the Garden Pest

Now that you’ve figured out which pest is doing the damage to your basil plant, the next step is to get rid of it.

Make sure you diagnosed the problem correctly, though, as the bugs don’t respond the same way to these soap sprays, essential oils, and DIY insecticides.


To get rid of caterpillars, make an insecticidal soap spray composed of 2 tablespoons of dish soap and 1 cup of water.

When you spray this on the caterpillars, they’ll become disoriented, and you can easily pick them up and dispose of them.

One unconventional method is to attract birds or bugs that eat caterpillars.

Some of these include ladybugs, beetles, and wasps. If you’ve got a caterpillar infestation, then introducing these into your garden will naturally control its population.

If you need something a little stronger, try using Bacillus thuringiensis, a caterpillar-specific insecticide.

Although this is deadly to caterpillars, it’s safe for your basil plants. Overall, it’s a quick and affordable solution to your pest problem.


Mealybugs may look like ants, but they’re a different species altogether.

Unlike ants, one of their favorite things to do is to eat basil, so you’ll want to get rid of them as soon as you see some crawling around your basil plant. Otherwise, its leaves will be riddled with holes!

Fortunately, mealybugs are deterred by essential oils such as neem oil, citrus oil, and peppermint oil.

All you have to do is mix a few drops of the essential oils with water, transfer them into spray bottles, and spray away!

However, test a small amount first on your basil plant leaves, as some strong essential oils can burn your basil plant.

Another thing you can try is rubbing/isopropyl alcohol. Using a cotton swab, apply a little bit of alcohol to the basil leaves with the mealybugs. This will kill them instantly.

To control the presence of mealybugs (and prevent their return), try to regularly wash your basil plant with water.

Make sure you have a proper drainage system in place, though, to prevent overwatering and drowning the roots—you may end up killing your basil if you do this improperly!


Now, unlike other basil pests, soft-bodied aphids are a little harder to notice because they just appear as small white spots. However, if left on their own, they grow to become adult aphids, so it’s best not to let them get to that stage.

To eliminate aphids, spray diluted rubbing/isopropyl alcohol directly on the basil plant leaves.

You can also use a cotton swab to apply the alcohol, but keep in mind that since this isn’t mixed in water, your basil plant may get burned.

Lightly rinse the basil leaves to get rid of the dead bugs and any remnants of the alcohol solution.

Like caterpillars, aphids are prey to other bugs such as beetles, wasps, and ladybugs. Attract these bug predators or plant their eggs in your greenhouse, garden, or deck so they’ll get rid of the aphids for you!

Lastly, you can pick up and remove the aphids, especially if they’ve just started infesting your basil. Try to clear them out as early as possible so they won’t grow, mature, and do more damage to your plant.

Japanese Beetles

If you’ve got beetle larvae or adult Japanese beetles in your garden, destroy them right away before they nibble holes all over your basil leaves! They love nothing more than gnawing on these herbs.

One great option is to use neem oil or cedar oil to kill them off. Because this works on both larvae and a fully-grown Japanese beetle, it will stop the source of the problem immediately.

Dealing with only a few beetles? Consider picking them off manually.

After all, since they’re quite large, they can quickly be spotted. If you can, plant geraniums around the area too—these flowers make a Japanese beetle dizzy, so it’s much easier to pick them up and throw them away.

If you want to be a little more proactive, set up beetle traps using something sweet such as fruit.

Mix warm water, a packet of yeast, 1/4 cup of sugar, and mashed fruit into a bottle/jug. Add in a few drops of dish soap and leave it near the basil plant—this will kill the beetles once they crawl into the trap.

Now, since these pests appear in the morning, you may also want to cover your plants during that time of day. This is a simple and cost-effective way to ensure they can’t consume all your basil until just the veins remain!

Slugs and Snails

You can easily spot slugs in your garden because of their distinct appearance and because of the huge, ragged holes that appear on your basil plant leaves and herbs.

However, because they come out early in the morning or late at night, you have to make the effort to catch them in the act.

To get rid of slugs, all you have to do is sprinkle them with salt. It sounds simple, but this kills off slugs fast.

If you can’t be bothered to wait for them to come out, try setting up beer traps.

Fill a small container or pot with beer, set it on the ground near your basil, and the slugs will come crawling in. They fall in, drown, and your problem is solved!

The last method is to purchase commercial insecticides or sprays for slugs.

You can spray this in the problem areas of your garden to get rid of them right away. Keep in mind, though, that some of these may be harmful to specific plants, so make sure to buy ones that are safe for them.

Spider Mites

Although these black spider mites are tiny, they can cause a lot of damage to your basil plant and herbs.

Because they suck out all the water and nutrients from the leaves, your basil will weaken and eventually die.

To stop the spider mites from multiplying and destroying your basil, mix neem oil and water in a bottle and spray on its leaves.

Alternatively, use a hose to spray water all over the basil plant leaves.

This should be effective at getting rid of any lingering pests if the insects have just started appearing on the plant. Again, just make sure the basil isn’t overwatered.

One last way to obliterate spider mites is to attract natural bug predators such as lady beetles and lacewings into the ecosystem. They’ll eat up all the pests in no time!


Like spider mites, whiteflies are garden pests that multiply quickly and gnaw tiny holes in your basil plants. Because they’re so small and so numerous, a typical insecticidal soap won’t do the trick.

Instead, try making or buying sticky traps to catch these whiteflies.

It’s much more convenient to purchase these from your local stores, but you can also make a DIY one with corn syrup, sugar, water, and a paper bag.

Another strategy is to introduce wasps that eat whiteflies in your garden. Like other predator bugs, these insects will hunt down and kill pests that are feeding on your basil plants.

Lastly, you can remove whiteflies manually or with a handheld vacuum. Do this daily until the flies are completely eradicated from your plants.

All-Around Solutions

Cayenne Pepper

Did you know that a lot of insects hate cayenne pepper? In fact, its powerful scent prevents many kinds of bugs from entering your garden and destroying your herbs.

Just mix cayenne pepper and water in a spray bottle, spray it on your basil leaves, and you’ll find that it stops nasty critters from eating your plants. Don’t use too much, though, as it could end up harming your basil plant.

Vinegar Spray

Vinegar, a convenient pantry staple, also effectively repels insects from getting to your basil plant. Simply dilute the vinegar with water in a spray bottle and use it as needed until the bugs disappear.

Again, don’t overdo it, as vinegar is very potent, and it could harm your basil plant.

To prevent sun damage, it’s best to spray this vinegar solution at nighttime. You should also rinse the basil leaves well after application, as the vinegar could still stick on to the leaves.

Dish Soap Spray

One easy, cost-effective fix for insects on your basil plant is dishwashing detergent. Combine dish soap and water in a spray bottle and use this daily on your plants.

Make sure to cover all areas (top and underside of leaves, branches, stems) with the insecticidal soap to completely get rid of the insects. Afterward, rinse the plants/leaves thoroughly and drain them well.

Although this method is more harmless compared to vinegar spray for your basil plants, always test with a small area first before applying all over.

After all, you don’t want to end up with more plant damage!

Step 3: Maintenance and Prevention

To make sure your basil plant stays healthy and pest-free, take note of the following tips:

  • Ensure your basil is getting all the right nutrients that it needs to flourish. Depending on where you live, whether your plant is in a pot or in the ground, and its growth rate, specific types of fertilizers and mulch may be ideal. Fertilize and mulch regularly, observe, and adjust as needed.
  • Always have an effective drainage system in place. Although every basil plant needs water, too much water can kill it. Check your drainage periodically to make sure it’s still doing its job well.
  • Trim your basil plant regularly. For optimal growth, your plants need to be trimmed from time to time. This allows them to get stronger and healthier in the long run.
  • Observe your basil plants. When you spot a problem or a bug infestation right away, it’s a lot easier to eliminate it. However, if you leave these slugs, aphids, and other pests unnoticed for too long, they could cause irreversible damage to your plants.


How to Use Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

Now that you have strong and healthy basil plants, what can you do with these herbs?

The obvious answer is for cooking! Many recipes incorporate basil herbs either as the main ingredient or as a garnish because of its fresh scent, flavor, and vibrant green color.

If you have a particularly bountiful harvest, use basil leaves to make pesto for your pasta dishes or sandwiches.

Gardening certainly seems worth it when you have delicious food at your table, right?

Now, something quite cool about the plant is that it also acts as a natural pest repellent.

Frogs, bees, and some other soft-bodied insects avoid basil, so they’ll keep away from your garden if they can smell it.

Is It Safe to Eat Basil With Holes?

You’ve successfully gotten rid of the aphids, slugs, and other insects feeding on your basil leaves, but they’ve still got tons of holes! In this case, is it still safe to eat basil?

Well, it depends. If you’re 100% sure that all the bugs are gone and you’ve rinsed and cleaned the leaves thoroughly, then it’s generally safe for consumption.

However, if you see signs of rot, mold, and any other suspicious physical characteristics on the leaves, it’s best to throw them out.

These may make you sick, so just wait for a new batch to grow just to be safe!

Final Thoughts

Gardening isn’t without its challenges. Even something easy to grow like basil is prone to nasty, crawling critters.

However, always remember that there’s a solution to any problem. Just follow my tips and you’ll have healthy, happy herbs in no time!

Always remember to be patient and put in the effort—that’s all you need to succeed in your gardening endeavors.

Thanks for reading!