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Harvesting and Preserving Basil

Once your basil plant has reached 6-8 inches in height you can begin harvesting leaves. This involves exactly the same process as “pruning” which I covered in the article Care and Maintenance.  Harvesting basil is important, not only to promote the growth of new stems but to ensure that the plant does not flower too early. Once the herb starts to flower it will stop producing new leaves and the existing leaves may become slightly bitter to taste. If you are growing basil outdoors make sure to harvest all the leaves before the first frost, or transplant it indoors so that your crop is not lost.

Preserving the Herb After Cutting

There are many ways to preserve basil. This means that you can have basil available all year round, especially if you are growing basil indoors as well. Now let me break down the various ways that basil can be preserved.

Keeping Fresh Cut Basil Fresh

Basil loves warm weather, and furthermore it does not like your refrigerator. Putting basil in the fridge will cause it to wilt and turn brown. To keep basil fresh for several days after cutting it, put the basil into a glass of water with the stems down. Make sure the leaves are not in the water and sit it out on the counter-top or somewhere close by. If you insist on using the refrigerator, cover the basil with a plastic bag while it is in its container or glass to help protect it.

Freezing Basil

This is a great method for preserving basil if you do a lot of cooking and you want to have relatively fresh basil all year long. Take the basil from your harvest and, after washing it, put it in a food processor. You can even use the stems if you wish. Puree the herb, pour it into ice cube trays and put it in the freezer. I recommend using a little extra virgin olive oil in the puree, especially if you are going to be making pesto with it. After the cubes are frozen you can pop them out and store them in zip-lock bags. When you are ready to cook, it’s as easy as tossing a few cubes in the pan.

Drying Basil

There is an art to drying basil and there are a variety of methods people use for doing so. One caveat to drying basil is that it turns brown, and this is a turn off for many people. This is why many people prefer to use fresh basil or freeze it instead. If you are wholeheartedly convinced that you want to preserve your harvest in this way, please visit my article on how to dry basil leaves.