Sweet image from Collard Green Princess!
Since basil doesn’t survive winter, not even coastal SoCal ‘winter,’ except sometimes, if you are growing African Blue Basil and the winter is mild, make some Basil Powder! Delicious sprinkled over oil tossed salads, added to stews and steamed veggies! Grow purple basil as well as the green. Put it in a pretty little glass jar, add a bright ribbon or green garden twine, label, and it is a sweet organic homemade gift!
The best time to harvest is just as the plant starts to bud, well before flowers bloom. Different varieties of herbs flower at different times, so, heads up! Be on the lookout for buds or newly opened flowers as your clue to harvest ASAP! Harvest after the dew has dried, and before hot midday sun; evening is fine. You missed the ‘bud window’ and your plants are already blooming? Not to worry. Just know your powder will be less pungent and you will need to use more to get the flavor you want. So keep watch on your plants to take advantage of this tasty window!
Harvest the topmost leaves first. Snip leaves or branches, pinch off flower buds to keep the plant productive. Harvest the entire top half of your plants, or, of course, you can use as much or as little as you want. You can also cut the entire plant about 6 to 8 inches above ground, leaving at least one node with two young shoots intact. The plant should produce a second, but smaller harvest several weeks later.
Wash, dry – spinner or flat and patted on paper towels. Dry is good; mold is bad.
Use some string, or plant twine, or wool, or a ‘shrink-to-fit’ rubber band, to securely tie the stem end of your basil bunch. If you are tying, make your knots good and tight; when the basil dries it shrinks.
Hang your basil upside down to dry – string a taut line from eyehook to eyehook for a drying area for all your herbs! Choose a dry spot out of the sun, not over the toaster or stove, not burnt nor moldy. Indoors it can take about 4 weeks. If you hang it in a dry attic or airy porch, it might take only 2 weeks or so. It’s dried just right when it’s nice and crunchy and breaks easily.
Organic Gardening.com uses this simple method instead!
- Don’t tie basil stalks together or hang them to dry as you might other herbs. (mold factor)
- Pinch or snip leaves from the stems and place them on a screen or absorbent towel.
- Stir daily and allow to dry until crackly.
- Store in an airtight container.
You can store stems and leaves whole in zip baggies. You can crumble into particles. Or you can make a fine powder. I use my mini coffee bean machine – only for herbs.
Non Traditional Methods
- Oven: Preserving Your Harvest says ‘If using cookie sheets to dry the herbs, place the herbs to be dried on parchment paper to avoid direct contact with the metal trays. Metal contact darkens the color of the herb being dried, causing the Basil to lose its bright green color.‘ Blake2012 says ‘Dry in a very cool oven (high temperatures will result in tasteless herbs).’
- Sliding tray racks
- Sun dried
- Freeze dried – retains green color!
- Microwave or Freezer! Fastest of all! Caution from Whole Grain Texan! ‘A word of warning: Plant material will catch on fire in the microwave if you dry it out too much — I once had a little mishap when sterilizing sphagnum moss– but if you do it in 30 second intervals it won’t be a problem.’ So don’t let your kids do this without supervision, and don’t be a kid yourself!
- Though not a drying method, put finely chopped basil in olive oil ‘ice’ cubes!
These methods can be used for any herbs!
Mint, tarragon, lemon balm parsley, dill, rosemary, chopped chives! Modify your methods for plant differences, ie sage has a much thicker leaf. Have you dried Arugula?! It’s much like basil, and in fact, is used as a basil substitute! Dried arugula is reported to have a smoky, savory flavor, even a little salty. Tasty used in tuna salad, vegetable broth, mushroom soup, on scrambled eggs. Sprinkle basil or arugula over your dried kale snacks!
Use your basil on pasta, omelets, scrambled eggs, roast meat and/or veggies, sausages, in salad dressings, on fish. Use in delicious sauces, gravies, dressings, any recipes that use fresh Basil. Now you can say you have two season basil! That’s why we call it ‘seasoning!’ Enjoy it summer fresh, and in winter too!