Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Herbs

Growing Basil (page 2 of 2)

by National Gardening Association Editors

Harvest and Storage

Basil is at its most flavorful when fresh. The best time to harvest is just as the plant starts to set flower buds, well before flowers bloom. Basil is programmed to initiate flowering when it has six pairs of leaves on a stalk. For maximum production per plant, cut it back to two leaves per stem, and don’t let it grow past four pairs. You can harvest the entire plant about every three weeks, and at the end of the season there will be 12 to 24 lateral branches.

The later in the day you harvest basil, the longer it stays fresh. In a perforated bag kept at around 60°F, it will keep for 10 to 14 days. In contrast, refrigerated basil lasts two or three days. You can also store stems in a vase in your kitchen, close at hand for cooking. As for flower bouquets, change water in the vase every few days.

To best maintain the flavor of dried basil, store it in the freezer. To quick-freeze basil, dry whole sprigs and pack them in plastic bags with the air pressed out. To dry basil, pinch leaves off the stem and spread them out in a shady, well-ventilated area. Check in 3 or 4 days, and if they don’t crumble easily between your fingers, finish drying in the oven; otherwise the leaves may turn brown or black in storage. Use the lowest heat possible with the door slightly open, turn leaves for even drying, and check them frequently.

Another method is to make pesto (or even basil processed with olive oil), pack it into containers or ice cube trays, and freeze it. Once cubes are frozen, you can pop them out of trays and into plastic bags for easy storage.

Photograph by Suzanne DeJohn/National Gardening Association
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