Harvesting Basil 101
The key lesson here? Don’t be afraid to cut! When your basil plant has 3 to 5 sets of leaves, cut the top off just above the second set of leaves from the ground. The single stalk will now end here, and two new branches will now bud and grow from the set of leaves you left behind. Every couple of weeks, repeat the process, cutting just above the first or second set of leaves on your newest branches. Before long, you’ll have a healthy bush. Harvesting basil this way, you’ll probably be able to get 20 cups of basil from each plant per season!
If the plant should ever sneak some flowers in on you, you’ve reached a fork in the road. You can either prune all the flower buds off before they bloom and keep harvesting basil, or you can let the flowers bloom and watch the plant end its life in a beautiful display of fertility. Your choice. Basil plants are annuals — meaning they only grow one season and then die.
Now that you know that aggressive pruning is the way to go, is there anything you can do to make sure you get the most flavourful, robust basil? YES!
The night before you plan on harvesting basil, give the plant a good soak. The following day, do your cutting in the morning before the day gets too hot and dry. The essential oils are at their strongest then.
What should you do with all your harvested basil?
What if you end up harvesting too much to use immediately? What then? Well, you could always simply dry it, but I find that makes the basil flavour lose a lot of its complexity. I prefer to freeze my basil. There are two ways to do this.
In the first method, you simply place your harvested basil leaves in a zipper freezer bag. They’ll keep for up to a year like this. This is the perfect method for keeping basil leaves for use as an ingredient.
In the second method, you begin by stuffing your basil into a food processor and adding olive oil to cover it. Pulse it a few quick times until blended, then pour into ice cube trays and freeze. When you need basil for pesto or dressings, just whip out the number of cubes you need. It couldn’t be any easier!
You can also use your harvested basil as a cutting to grow a new basil plant. Simply store the cut basil in water, leaving the leaves exposed to air and the stem in the water. Keep it on your counter in moderate sun. Before long, you’ll have new roots growing from your stem. At that point, you can transfer your rooted cutting to soil and treat it like a new little plant.
It’s not too late!
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Thanks to Food Renegade for these great tips.
photo by cinnachick