Don’t let a single tasty leaf go to waste!
Basil is arguably one of the most flavorful of the culinary herbs, and an easy to grow annual. Many people consider it to be an essential herb in their summer garden. Luckily it is easy to preserve too, so you can have its fresh taste long after the growing season ends. There are many ways to preserve it, these are my three favorite ways to preserve basil for home use.
Like all herbs, the best time to harvest basil is in the morning when the essential oils are strongest. Wait until the morning dew has dried and before the heat of the afternoon sun. But, if you are harvesting small amounts for home use, it really doesn’t matter when you harvest.
The leaves will need to be clean before you preserve them. The previous night give the plant a good hosing off, loosening dirt and any insects. The next morning the plants will be dry, dust and bug-free, and ready for home preservation.
This versatile plant can use used fresh or dried in many popular dishes. The most obvious being pesto.
Preserve Basil in Olive Oil
Once you have harvested your basil leaves and they are washed and dry, you can preserve them in the freezer. This allows the freshness of the leaves to come through when cooking.
Roughly cut the leaves into small pieces and place them into ice cube trays. I probably placed about one tablespoon of fresh leaves in each section.
Pack them down as best you can and pour Extra Virgin Olive oil over the leaves. Place the whole tray into the freezer for a few hours. Once solidified, remove the cubes and place them into a freezer safe container. You will be able to pick out one or two cubes as needed.
This is a wonderful way to have fresh basil year round for your cooking needs. I used a few cubes to sauté zucchini, onion, and tomatoes for a dinner dish the other day. Tasty!
Preserve Basil by Salt Drying
Basil leaves can also be preserved by layering in salt (I used sea salt). Susan Belsinger, in her basil article at Herb Society, recommends layering sea salt and basil leaves in a glass pint jar with a plastic lid and storing it in the refrigerator. The leaves will stay fresh and last until the next harvest season.
The seasoned salt can then be used in soups and sauces or sprinkled over vegetables.
The process is simple. Starting with a clean, dry container, place an inch of salt in the bottom of a pint canning jar. Alternate layering clean, dry, whole basil leaves and salt until the jar is full. The salt will draw out moisture from the leaves and take on the flavor of the herb you are using.
Take leaves out as you need them (just brush off the salt) for cooking and use the flavored salt. The leaves will last, preserved in salt, for several months – so this is best used as an end of the season extender.
Another alternative is to take the leaves and salt and pulse them in a food processor to make a blended herbal salt.
Preserve Basil by Dehydrating
Basil leaves are tender. Dehydrating is a great way to extend your harvest, but you must get them into the dehydrator quickly, to minimize wilt.
Leaves should be clean and dry and dehydrated whole. The leaves can be touching each other on the trays.
Use a temperature of between 95°F and 115°F until they are completely dry and crumbly to the touch. The temperature may need to be increased to 125°F on humid days.
Store your dried basil out of direct sunlight, in plastic or glass jars. To retain as much of the flavor as possible, keep the leaves whole until you are ready to use them for cooking. Remember that dried herbs have a more intense flavor, so use 1/3 less dried herbs than fresh herbs in your recipe.
These are 3 simple ways to preserve basil after the harvest. Whether you make basil & olive oil cubes for quick saute, salt dried basil, or place the leaves in a dehydrator for safe keeping, you can be assured of the taste of fresh basil for months to come.