If you planted basil in your garden and all has gone according to plan, by midsummer you’ll have lots of fresh basil luring you with its minty aroma and threatening to go to seed any minute.
However, if you were ambitious in your planting, you may be wondering what on earth you’re going to do with all this goodness! Here are some tips for harvesting, using, and preserving the fresh basil from your garden.
How to Harvest Basil
You can pick basil leaves as needed at any time – in fact, harvesting encourages the plant to produce more leaves. Morning is the best time of day, but don’t hesitate to pick basil whenever you need it. For best results:
Harvesting Small Amounts: Pick a few leaves off each plant, rather than cutting off a whole stem. While you’re picking, periodically pinch off the branch tips, to encourage the plant to fill out.
Also, remove any flower buds and either discard or use as a garnish.
Harvesting Larger Amounts: Harvest the leaves from the top down, cutting back up to a third of the total plant height. Be sure to cut or pinch right above a leaf pair rather than leaving a stub. In a few weeks, your basil plants will be ready to harvest again.
Final Harvest: At the end of the season (before the first frost), cut the stems to the ground and pick off all the leaves. Add the stems to the compost pile, and bring the leaves indoors for an afternoon of cooking and preserving.
How to Use Harvested Basil
Your first task in harvesting basil is to remove the leaves from the stems, discard any dead or spotted leaves, rinse the basil thoroughly, and allow it to air dry (or pat dry with a towel).
There’s no end to yummy ways to use this herb:
Whether you like the minty, subtle taste or citrus and spicy taste in your pasta, there’s a basil for each craving.
If you’re a carb lover, basil leaves can be added to many kinds of pasta as well as making your very own pesto sauce or marinara to go along with it!
If you have some tomatoes and garlic lying around nothing can beat that warm and yummy taste of a good margarita pizza or if you prefer cooler foods, it’s always good to slice up some tomatoes and mozzarella topped with freshly harvested basil to snack on!
To make fresh basil tea:
- Pour 1 cup of boiling water over two tablespoons of freshly harvested, chopped basil.
- Steep for five minutes.
- Sweeten with raw honey to taste.
A variety of basil known as Tulsi (or Holy Basil) is considered a sacred and healing herb in India, and Tulsi tea is a popular stress-relieving and health-promoting tonic.
You can also add dried basil to potpourri, sachets, and homemade cleaning products to give a fresh, clean scent.
How to Preserve Basil
To store freshly harvested basil for later use, you can freeze it or dry it.
Freeze the fresh leaves by packing them tightly in an airtight container or plastic bag. Simply break off chunks as needed for garden-fresh flavor in recipes. You can also freeze basil and water in ice cubes for dropping into soups.
Dry basil by hanging stems in bunches, or spreading leaves out on a tray, in a dark, well-ventilated room.
Once the leaves are good and dry (about a week), you can crumble them into an airtight container.
This dried, harvested basil will last for months.