Considered by many to be the most adored herb of summer, basil is the only culinary herb that smells as good as it tastes.

If you’ve flexed your green thumb and have a bumper crop of basil on your hand it can be helpful to preserve your harvest for using later. Here are several methods you can use to preserve both that fresh flavour and the rich green colour.

Here are a few growing tips to ensure prolific, sweet tasting results:

  • Be sure to pinch basil plants often to postpone flowering and stimulate branching. Plant will produce longer and be stronger.
  • If plant does go to flower, remove flower tips and the sweet flavour will come back in a couple-a-days and harvesting can be resumed.
  • Cut off herbs as needed but several times in the summer you will have to completely harvest the abundance of foliage.
  • Plant some young new plants in midsummer to extend your basil season.

Here is a step-by-step method to harvest and freeze your basil to use all through the winter in your favorite recipes.

Harvest

  • Continue to pinch out stems of basil as needed throughout the summer.
  • Several times you will have to completely harvest the basil cutting back to 3 or 4 “ leaving several leaf nodes for plant to get it’s nutrition for continued growth and branching
  • Cutting or pinching basil at a stem just above the location where the leaves branch. Your basil will actually produce more when trimmed; it produces two new stems with new growth just below the cut area and stops the plant from producing flowers.
  • It is best to harvest early in the morning for sweetest results, try to avoid harvesting in the heat of the day. Harvest and store at the peak of freshness.

Freeze

Here are three methods to freeze your basil to use all through the winter in your favorite recipes:

Frozen pesto base is probably the best way to store basil for year round use. A food processor quickly combines the clean basil leaves with olive oil (allow one-fourth cup olive oil for 2 cups of loosely packed basil leaves) and a little salt. The puree can be thawed and remade into real pesto (see recipe below) by adding garlic, parmesan cheese and nuts, or it can be taken in another direction and be used to flavor Thai dishes. Frozen pesto base freezing method;

  • Pinch off basil leaves. Discard the stems, and wash the leaves very well in cool water and thoroughly dry in a salad spinner. If you don’t have a salad spinner, cool-water wash your basil leaves in the sink and dry as dry as possible with paper towels
  • Place a few of handfuls of basil into a steel bladed food processor. Fill but do not tightly pack the bowl of the food processor.
  • Pulse the food processor with one hand and drizzle olive oil into the feed tube with the other hand, pulsing until the basil is just coarsely chopped. Ensure that all the basil is coated with olive oil as it keeps it from going dark in the freezer. Generally 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil for each batch in the food processor when making coarsely chopped basil like used for pasta sauce, stew, or soup during the winter.
  • NOTE- Pesto not destined for the freezer should be promptly refrigerated and used within a few days, because the low pH of olive oil and basil provides a suitable environment for deadly botulism bacteria. The longer the pesto stays in your refrigerator, the greater the risk of botulism.

Frozen ice cubes loaded with chopped basil are less messy than making frozen pesto, and are an easy way to store basil for several months. Simply chop leaves, stuff them into ice cube trays, cover with cold water, and freeze. The frozen basil bits will turn black as soon as they thaw, but they will still taste like basil.

Frozen basil cigars are a great way to store basil with large leaves that can hold up to brief blanching. Dip branches of basil in boiling water for 10 seconds, and then pinch off the leaves and stack them about five deep. Roll up the blanched leaves like tight cigars, wrap the cigars in waxed paper, and then freeze them in airtight containers. When removed from the freezer and unwrapped, the cigars can be thinly sliced into ribbons that transform a homemade pizza into a truly unforgettable masterpiece.

A Fresh Storage Method

Packing basil in sea salt can extend its storage life in the refrigerator by two to three weeks.  Cover the bottom of an airtight food storage container with sea salt, and alternate single layers of clean, dry basil with more sea salt. This method comes in handy if you have only a few plants. The leaves hold their color and flavor but don’t pick up the salt flavor. Once leaves are all used, the salt can be dried and returned to the pantry.

Two freezing container methods for basil:

  • Plastic ice cube or muffin trays oil sprayed (for easy removal) for individual portions or smaller recipe additions and cover and seal with plastic clear wrap to reduce discoloring and freezer burn. Once ice cube trays are frozen hard  (3 to 4 days), transfer into zip loc freezer bags, clearly marking date frozen.
  • Airtight sealable containers work well for larger recipe requirements.  However, I tend to still only freeze smaller pre-measured amounts that are immediately used in my recipes, half and full cup amounts work well.  Always clearly label and date containers.