What To Do With Basil

It’s been hot and dry  here. The grass is crunching underfoot. Unless you are a goat, “crunch” is not a word that should be used in the same sentence with “grass.”

We have a well, and although I don’t believe in using it on the grass, I have been able to keep the vegetable garden watered. The basil is loving the combination of hot sun and sprinkler. I’ve had a bumper crop, which reached it’s peak all at one time.

Basil gets too strong and bitter if it blooms and bolts. So, I harvested all of it. I gave it a thorough washing in several rinses of water (and then dumped that water on my pots of flowers by the kitchen door.) Next, I picked the leaves off of the thickest stems (to be given to the chickens.)

The most important step when preparing to store basil is to dry it in a salad spinner.

Next, I pureed it in the processor with just enough very good extra virgin olive oil to make a paste. I like to leave a little texture to it.

I put it by teaspoonfuls into ice cube trays and tuck into the freezer.

When frozen solid I pop out the cubes (you might need to run some hot water on the bottom of the trays to loosen them) and put into a zip freezer bag. Back it goes into the freezer until this coming winter, when there are so many ways to use this little bit of summer. I’ll put a cube into a pot of soup, spread another on lasagna, and flavor focaccia with it. I had enough basil to make a batch of classic garlic, pignoli nut, pesto, too, that I handled the same way. Come back this winter, and I’ll show you what I make with my summer’s harvest.


    • Hi Sandy,

      Do you have any idea what to do if the plant gets too big and gets strong and bitter? I don’t know if I can cut it way back and get it back to the way it was earlier this summer. Right now it’s so bitter we don’t want to eat it. Thanks for any thoughts or ideas you might have.


      • Once the basil gets too strong there’s no going back. At least that’s true with the standard large – leafed Italian basil. However, I find that some of the smaller ones, like the Thai, you can pinch off the flower and keep harvesting leaves. My goats love basil – they get the plants that bolt.

  1. I’m impressed.
    I have lemon balm (I think is what it’s called) and it makes a wonderful room deodorizer as well as great additive to sun tea and certain dishes. I little on the stove in a pot of water, bring to a boil and instant smell good. The problem with the lemon balm is that it is evasive and that’s putting it midly. My grandma once told me to avoid plants in the garden with square stems, did I listen, of course not.
    I’m jealous of the 73 degree weather I see there, today is the first of at least 7 days of 95+ degree heat and high humidity and not a leaf a shaking in the trees.

    • I have lemon balm, too! I’ll have to try the room deodorizer trick (with two dogs, I should have an opportunity soon!)

    • Yes, plants with square stems are in the mint family, and are nearly impossible to control.

  2. Thanks Terry, visuals are very helpful for me. :) I wish I’d planted more basil. This was my first time growing herbs and my basil is doing very well. I have two plants, one is lime basil and the other sweet basil. They are planted in the same container as my tomato plant. You said you harvested all of yours. I’ve been just snipping off the top before it blooms. Will I still get good results till the end of summer doing this? Also, since you harvested all of yours, can you plant another crop now? I have some spicy oregano that is doing well too. Any suggestions as to how I can harvest that and keep for later? I’ve read about vinegars, but I don’t use vinegar in cooking very often.

    • Lime basil, and other basil that grow in bushy clumps are perfect for snipping as you need them. They’ll last all summer. I have some Thai basil in a pot by the backdoor that I’ll use all summer. But, if you plant a large patch of basil, you’ll never be able to catch up with the snipping – that’s why I harvest the lot. I do sow seeds again.
      You can dry the oregano in the microwave. Put it on a paper towel and zap it in increments until it’s dried out.

      • Really? In the microwave? I will definitely try that! So neat! Can that be done with other herbs? What do you do with chives to keep for winter use? Any suggestions?

        • Chives, like all onions, freeze well without any blanching, etc. Simply wash and dry, then mince (use a sharp knife – it helps to keep the cuts clean and not raggedy, which does affect shelf-life) then freeze in a zip bag.

    • Once I’ve used the trays for pesto, I don’t use them for plain ice again! BTW, I also freeze leftover coffee and use that for ice cubes in my iced coffee. Keeps the drink from being diluted by melting ice.

  3. Rather taken with that chicken cloth I must say… I’m growing a mixed basil assortment this year, some huge spotted purple leaves developing now.

  4. I have six large leaf Italian basil plants I’ve been picking from. They’re each now about 2 feet tall by half as wide – big enough to harvest and make pesto with. I’ll lop them off at about 6 inches and see if I can get a second, if somewhat smaller, harvest in… maybe a month. This variety is said to be slow to bolt, so I’m hoping, but will start another round in seed blocks just in case. Thanks for the tip about freezing in ice cube trays. Great idea! Since our frig has an ice maker (no trays) I bought a couple for today’s project.