Now that my basil is a full grown plant, I’ve been harvesting from it and learning ways to use those deliciously fragrant leaves. Looking back, I should have been harvesting more often as pinching off the tips of the basil every week or so encourages it to bush out and grow even more! I picked a little here and there, but I thought I was supposed to wait until the little bush bloomed. Actually, I now know that it is best to harvest before flowers begin to set for greatest flavor. If your plant does begin to bloom though, simply pluck off the buds and your basil will continue to flourish.
Harvesting basil is very easy. Just pinch off as many leaves as you’d like to use, making sure to leave at least three leaves at the base of each branch so the plant will keep growing more for you. Or, you can do as I’ve done this morning and cut whole branches, leaving 6 in. on the plant. This just makes it easier to take it all inside to rinse and pluck leaves from for preserving in larger amounts.
For the best flavor, pick either early in the morning or later in the evening, before the hot sun has come out and dried the plant.
To preserve your basil, you have several options. Whichever you choose, always rinse any dirt off first, and dry it thoroughly before continuing. A salad spinner works great for drying, or you can use towels to blot the excess water off.
- To freeze it, put freshly picked leaves into a food processor with enough olive oil to keep it mixing, just long enough to chop leaves but not puree them. Spread this mixture onto plastic wrap, and roll it tightly. You can wrap this with foil for extra protection if desired. It’ll stay good for several months like this. If you don’t process with olive oil, the basil will turn black in the freezer. Another option is to put the basil mixture into ice cube trays to freeze, and then transfer these to a ziploc or another container. It is helpful to freeze in amounts your favorite recipe calls for.
- You can also dry it in a dehydrator, hang it in bunches for 2-3 weeks, or use the oven. The best way to dry in the oven is to wait until after you have baked something else at no higher than 350*, then turn the oven off and place the basil leaves on a cookie sheet into the oven to dry until crumbly. Of course, you can also sun dry them on a screen as well.
- Basil will keep in the fridge for months. In a glass jar, layer basil leaves with salt, and fill the jar with olive oil, leaving 1″ headspace. Use this in recipes which call for fresh basil leaves.
If you have a different way of preserving your basil harvest, I’d love to know how it’s done in your home!!