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Home » Gardening, Preserving Food

How To Harvest & Preserve Basil

Submitted by on July 11, 2011 – 8:56 pm 15 Comments
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basilNow 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!!

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15 Comments »

  • Ellen says:

    I wash mine, dry with paper towels then hang to dry by an elastic band in a cool dark room for a few weeks, crumble it up and put it in jars or small sandwich bags. I use it all Fall and winter in soups, sauces etc. Just pick a few bunches stems and all to hang. Works great for me. Been doing it like this for years.

  • Nancy says:

    Okay, I just tried drying some basil now before the bigger harvest by placing in the 350 degree oven and then turning it off. They are all crumbly but nearly black, not very green looking. Are they okay? Any thoughts? Can other herbs be done similarly or are there some particulars?
    Nancy

    • Nancy, the herbs will get dark, but they shouldn’t be black. If I were you I’d taste them. If they don’t taste burnt, they’re probably alright. I’ve only tried hang drying herbs so far, so I don’t have much experience to share yet. Some herbs do better being hung, and some are best dried in the oven or dehydrator (or by the sun). I hope it works out for you!

  • Valerie says:

    Or, use an ice cube tray then pluck them into a ziploc bag. Just enough to drop into sauces!

  • Angela K. says:

    I just place my basil leaves in a zip lock bag and throw them in the freezer. I have done this with chopped and whole leaves and they have never turned black…only when I store them in the fridge this way, but not the freezer.

  • Amy says:

    Thanks so much for posting this, Kendra. I have been waiting for my little bush to grow more before finding out what on earth to do with it. After reading your post this morning, I immediately went out and harvested mine…can’t wait now to make the pesto!

  • Pam B says:

    I just freeze mine like Rebecca! Wash & dry them, lay them out, and then I store them in a large gallon freezer bag. I don’t puree or chop or anything else – just freeze ‘em as they are. Right now just from my 2 little basil plants I’ve got 2 full gallon freezer bags and more coming! Of course I also freeze my tomatoes whole (just toss them in a freezer bag) until I get time to use or can them. They come out watery, but still perfect for cooking or making sauces.

  • Kelly Miller says:

    I like to pick a bouquet of basil and keep it on my window sill in a glass of water. I can pluck a few leaves when cooking and the remaining stems will root in the water, giving me a free plant within a week. I plant the new start and pick another bouquet to put in the vase. I’m now growing basil everywhere!

  • stacey says:

    we LOVE basil at our house. usually it doesn’t last long enough to preserve but this year i tried to plant a lot more than we could use for pesto so hopefully i’ll have enough for other things too. :)

  • Jamie says:

    You can also use it to make basil pesto. It is super easy and a great pasta sauce, sandwich condiment, or pizza sauce. We use it for in lot of recipes.

  • Rebecca says:

    I love your ideas! I just lay the leaves in a single layer on foil, seal well, roll it up, and freeze. DON’T place it in a ziplog bag, just the foil.

  • Rosann says:

    I make basil oil to use on pasta, rice, veggies and anything else that tastes great with basil. I use very good olive oil heat it to low temp 150 to 165 add the basil. Let it steep for a while but never get the temp up or let it boil. The pour it into a jar and put a lid on the jar and shake it a couple times each day for a week or two (or more). Later strain off the leaves and put it in green bottles and keep it away from the sunlight.

  • Ashlee says:

    That was exactly what I needed to know, today. :) I need to start harvesting my basil.

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