Harvesting Basil

by Daisy

Next to tomatoes and peppers, fresh basil is arguably the best thing about the summer garden.  We’ve been luxuriating in it.  Everything tastes better with basil in it, even dessert.  I spread some basil butter on zucchini bread and almost fell out of my chair.

I planted LOTS this year and it’s time to go beyond “a sprig here, a sprig there” kind of harvesting before it flowers and the leaves begin to turn bitter and sparse.  A nice haircut now will promote a fresh flush of growth as the plant resets to get to the flowering stage again.

I went out with my scissors and harvest basket and with only a few mosquito bites for my trouble, I brought in the bounty in the photo at the top of the post.  I have three kinds of basil:

Sweet basil.  Classic basil flavor, perfect for pesto, Caprese Salad, dressings.  Everything really.

Mammoth basil.  Gorgeous, huge, crinkly leaves.  Mild basil flavor.  I swap it out for the lettuce in sandwiches.  Bacon, Basil, and Tomato, anyone?

Last but not least, Anise basil.  This is my first year to grow this stuff and I am in love with it.  I was worried it might be too perfumey or too strong for me, but it really is just the most delicious, versatile, perfectly flavored, did I say delicious? basil ever.  Right now we’re eating it on fresh pole beans with red bell pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar.  Run, don’t walk, to get some of this revelation.

To harvest basil, just take a scissors or secateurs or pruner and clip off about a third of each stem, preferably before it has begun to flower.  No need to be fussy about it.

I am going to make pesto from the sweet and mammoth basil and dry the leaves of the anise basil.  It has an intense flavor I believe will stand up well to drying.  While many people freeze herbs in ice cubes to retain the fresh flavor, I don’t have the freezer space for that (and our power goes out with too much regularity).  I love the convenience of dried herb mixes. (See how to dry leaves in a microwave here.)  Here’s a favorite of mine, and a preview of one of the recipes in our book that’s coming out early next year.

Italian Herb Seasoning, no salt

Mix together 2 Tablespoons EACH, dried:

  • basil
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • marjoram
  • thyme
  • savory
  • red pepper flakes
  • minced dried garlic

Store in an airtight container.

So good on eggs, in salad dressing, anything Italian.  A little peeunch between the cheek and gum . . .


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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

CurlysQuilts July 18, 2011 at 9:32 am

I’m growing sweet basil and lemon basil this year. I’m hoping the lemon basil will make good pesto. And all this time I’ve been breaking my back havesting just the leaves from my basil plants and only getting one harvest! Thanks for clearing up that confusion.

J. Acevedo July 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I grow & dehydrate basil on a regular basis.Right now I have red basil, and yesterday I dehydrated a whole bunch of it. Then it goes into the freezer to be used later on stews, etc. 😎

Portia McCracken July 18, 2011 at 6:49 pm

Regarding herbs, have you ever made your own fresh herbes de Provence? I use the recipe from Penzeys Spices:
Mix fresh chopped rosemary, fennel, thyme, savory, basil, tarragon, dill weed, oregano, lavender, chervil and marjoram. Slather this fresh mixture on chicken or just about any other meat that’s been brushed lightly with olive oil, then grill. Don’t forget to toss any woody herb stems on the coals–they make a lovely smoke. This fresh herb mixture makes a wonderful crust for grilled meat. Dry any of the leftover herb mixture and have you’ll your own homemade herbes de Provence for the winter.

JavaLady July 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Looks and sounds Deee-Vine !!

Tomato Lady July 19, 2011 at 6:05 am

Portia–Sounds great! We have an herbes de Provence recipe in our new book. I love how you use it fresh and then save the rest to dry.

Lynnette July 23, 2011 at 3:29 pm

So, my basil made a miraculous recovery and I was able to make pesto…but no one but me liked it. When I asked my husband what he didn’t like about it he said, “the flavor..it tastes like I’m eating a plant.” This coming from the guy who loves green smoothies. oh well.

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