Basil. It’s my favourite. I love the smell, the flavour it gives & how incredibly easy it is to grow and store.
Each year I grow anywhere from 6-9 plants in my garden. They usually take up their own section, but this year, I’ve also planted some amongst my tomato plants.
The key to growing basil is to make sure it’s planted in a bright sunny space & to keep your soil moist (<-- you guys, that word, I hate it! But it's really the only way to describe it!). Also, don't be afraid to harvest your basil plants often! If you keep trimming them down, they will continue to grow, yielding an impressive amount of leaves. I plant Genovese Basil, because it's the bomb for sauces and pesto's. Although one year I was planting my basil, I had such a nightmare with constant pests nibbling on them! I tried some home methods to get rid of them, however, it got so bad in the end that I had to call in professionals (like those at https://www.lawncare.net/service-areas/new-york/) to come and deal with the pest problem instead, as they were effecting my lawn too. After this, I kept them coming round each year to maintain the garden to ensure it didn’t happen again, and luckily, it hasn’t!
Throughout the summer, I’ll pick leaves to use in various dishes, but I don’t start harvesting it until I see that my stalks are starting to flower. Once they start to flower, I either pinch them off, or else I’ll take my garden shears and cut the stalk down a few inches.
The picture above shows what the stalk looks like when it’s getting ready to flower. Those little buds between the leaves will flower a pretty white flower. You don’t want that to happen. Your plants will just end up going to seed. Don’t worry that your plants look half their size once you’re done cutting, I promise that within a couple weeks time, they will be yielding even more basil than you cut off. In the past two weeks, I’ve harvested 2 more batches equal to that in these photo’s! In the picture below, you can see where more leaves are already starting to grow out!
After I’ve trimmed all my plants, I fill the sink with about an inch of cold water and strip the leaves off the stems, soaking them in the sink. This helps loosen any dirt or dead bugs from the leaves. If there’s some dirt that won’t let loose, just rub the leaf with your thumb and it will be enough to take the extra dirt off. As I’m cleaning, I throw the leaves in a colander to let any excess water drip off. Once done, I lay them in between a couple of sheets of paper towel and dab them dry. They don’t have to be completely dried, but you don’t want them soaking wet either.
So what of you do once they are clean and dry? Well, I like to store mine 3 different ways.
Using them Fresh
Honestly, the easiest and least time consuming way (well maybe a tie with the next one actually). Dampen a couple of sheets of paper towel and lay them flat in a Ziploc bag. Lay your basil leaves on that paper towel, take out all the air in the bag and seal it shut. They will keep fresh like this in your fridge for up to two weeks. How do I know that? Because the photo above is ‘fresh’ basil that I stored 2 weeks ago. If you find that your paper towel is getting dried out, add a drop or two of water to dampen it again.
Freezing Fresh Basil
The second easiest and least time consuming way to store basil, is to freeze it. This actually take less steps than keeping it fresh. Once it’s washed & dried throw it in a freezer bag, let out all the air and find a place for it in your freezer. So, so simple. When it freezes it becomes very brittle and breaks incredibly easy. You can either crush it all in the bag and leave as is, or, leave the leaves full & crush them as you need them. Take note though that although it freezes easily it also thaws easily. The warmth from your hand will thaw it within seconds. My suggestion, keep two frozen bags. One crushed & one whole, this gives you more options to work with.
This step takes a bit of time and you will need a dehydrator for it.
I take a little more time drying my leaves after washing them if I know they are going to be dehydrated. I have a Salton dehydrator that has 5 racks and different temperature settings and is so quiet. Although it suggests using the lowest temperature setting for drying herbs, I crank it to the highest because I don’t have the patience to wait all day.
Lay your leaves out closely to one another, you can overlap a bit as they will shrink as they dry. As the leaves dry you can condense them down onto one or more trays and add some more basil as you go. Smaller leaves take less time, larger leaves take more time. You will know that your leaves are dried once they have shrunk to half their size, area darker muted green and are brittle to touch.
Once all my basil has dried, I put them in a clean mason jar and crush them down – usually with my mojito muddler, haha! It takes a lot of basil to fill a jar, so don’t be discouraged if after your first batch it looks like you’ve yielded next to nothing. I will dry enough basil to fill a pint sized mason jar, which gives me 2 cups. It may not sound like a lot, but a little goes a long way.
That’s it! Pretty simple right?
Between these 3 ways of storing basil, you should definitely have enough to last you from one season to the next. Truth be told, there is nothing more disappointing than wanting a basil infused marinara to realise that you have none!
What are some of your favourite ways to use basil? Do you have any tips or tricks that work for you? If you do, don’t forget to share them with us in the comments!