Saturday, June 20, 2009

Garden Journal 6/20/09:
Harvesting the First Green & Purple Basil of the Season (And the Best Ways to Store Your Fresh Basil)

It's Almost Too Pretty to Eat

Realization of the Day:
Freshly picked basil always feels like summer.

It's the longest day of the year today, and it's also the hottest—90 degrees in the shade (which is why I'm hiding in my little office with a fan blasting on me, writing about gardening instead of actually doing it). But even without the calendar and thermometer, I'd know that summer is about to begin because the fresh basil is ready.

I ordered all sorts of different kinds of basil seeds this year, and then I ended up buying some plants instead. This purple variety is Red Rubin, which the
Johnny's Select Seeds catalog says is a "vigorous Italian large leaf type with high yields and great flavor. Flat, 3" long leaves stand out horizontally, and are a copper-tinged purple color. Height 18"—24" and 76 days to harvest."

I'm pretty sure this is the mystery purple variety I grew last year that made such incredible pesto. The plants look similar, and many of the leaves have the same pretty green outline along the edges.

The green basil was grown and sold by a local gardener at the natural foods store in town. It was simply labeled 'sweet basil,' but at $2.00 for six healthy little plants I wasn't about to pass it up just because I have no idea what kind it is.

While Genovese basil is a favorite and dependable Italian variety for pestos, I prefer the Italian Large Leaf, which has a sweeter and less clove-like flavor. The tiny leaves of lemon and lime basil smell wonderful, and are a nice change from the norm, though I admit to never using them to their full potential.

One year I grew bush basil, and I ended up with about 20 adorable and perfectly shaped little mounds that made me think of hedgehogs. They do well in pots and a closely planted row of them would make a beautiful edging along a pathway or herb bed.

Since it's going to be a long, long time before I have any tomatoes in the garden (especially since five of my most recently transplanted seedlings fried up and died yesterday), I'll probably just turn this basil into my favorite pesto. Tonight we're grilling homegrown beef burgers that we'll serve on hunks of Four Hour Parisian Daily Baguettes (I love this easy bread!), and I'm thinking a pesto burger—smothered with a thick slice of fresh mozzarella perhaps—would be very nice. Or maybe I should wait for the tomatoes.

I actually picked this basil back on Wednesday, but after 72 hours in the refrigerator it still looks perfectly fresh. I rinsed the leaves under water and put them in a plastic bag with a paper towel. The paper towel will soak up extra moisture and keep the leaves from rotting while maintaining a high level of humidity in the bag. I gently pressed most of the air out of the bag and sealed it with a clothespin.

Some people claim that fresh basil will quickly rot in the refrigerator if the leaves aren't perfectly dry, but I find they do better when left a little damp. And as with lettuce and other greens, wilted basil leaves won't perk up in the refrigerator—you need to refresh them in a quick cold water bath first.

The best way to store fresh basil is of course to leave it on the plant until just before you're ready to use it. Harvesting often can actually benefit the plant since, as my gardening girlfriend Cynthia Sandberg at Love Apple Farm explains in this informative post, pinching your basil plants is the key to success.

One of our butcher lamb customers is an avid gardener, and she likes to keep a big bunch of basil in a pitcher of water on her kitchen counter. She says it lasts for quite a while that way, and sometimes the stems will even send out roots, creating new plants that can go back in the garden. I really need to try this.

Are you harvesting any basil yet? What are your favorite varieties—and what do you like to do with them?

Related posts:
9/21/06: How To Keep Your Basil Growing Into Fall
6/25/06: Beautiful Basil Seedlings in the Greenhouse
7/25/06: Volunteer Basil in the Kitchen Garden
8/10/06: Basil Gone Wild - and Happy Pollinators

Other Farmgirl Fare basil recipes and appetizers you might enjoy:
Purple Basil Pesto and the Easiest White Bean Dip/Spread Recipe Ever
Savory Tomato Pesto Pie with a No-Fail Biscuit Crust
Fresh Tomato Pesto Pizza & A Simple Tomato Salad
Fresh Tomato & Basil Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread
Simple Fresh Tomato Pizza Sauce (no blanching required)
The Easiest Greek Salad Ever
Colors of Summer Salad with Fresh Basil
Summer in a Bowl with Fresh Basil
Fiesta Cottage Cheese Veggie Dip
Hot Swiss Chard Artichoke Dip
How To Make Arugula Pesto & What To Do with It
All About Chives & How To Make Herbed Yogurt Cheese

© Copyright 2009, the herb infused foodie farm blog where—oh gosh, look at the time—it's happy hour! Time to water the thirsty garden and pour myself a drink. Happy summer solstice!


  1. I've planted thai basil as well as the traditional green basil - and started harvesting both this past week. The thai basil seems to have stood up to the onslaught of rain lately better than the traditional kind... the traditional is looking a bit wind-blown. But both are delicious, and have entirely different flavors. I think I'd like the thai basil better in cooked dishes with the traditional reserved for the raw garnishes and sauces of summer.

  2. Your customer gave you great advice for keeping your basil! You should definitely try cutting the basil and leaving it in a glass of water on the counter. I'm a market gardener, and for a year I tried all sorts of tricks to bring fresh, unwilted basil to market. Putting the cut stems in a container of water is the most effective way I've found to keep it fresh. For the first 12 hours after cutting, it might look a little wilted, but then it will perk up again and look fantastic. I've kept cut basil on my counter for over 3 weeks! I just add more water to the container periodically. The cut stems often produce more roots, and I've transplanted these successfully.

  3. I like to make a simple pesto (a blenderful of basil leaves, a couple cloves of garlic and enough olive oil to bring it all together), and the store this in ziplock bags in the freezer. They store nice and flat, and you can just break off a piece of frozen pesto and use it wherever you want the taste of fresh basil. I use it to make a very quick and easy basil balsamic vinaigrette.

  4. I usually try to infuse olive oil with it because my honey is such a picky eater. He doesn't like anything 'green' on his food, but seems to love the oils!

    I gave a bunch of herbs to his mother and grandmother this year, and they kept them for months in those green veggie bags you see advertised all over. I haven't really tried them, but they swear by them!

  5. I must have bad seeds. My basils - purple and green - didn't come up. Maybe there's still time...

  6. My favorite way to use basil is to make pesto. I freeze a bunch every year. Use less than typical amount of olive oil and then freeze small-ish amounts in cupcake papers in cupcake tins. When frozen put in freezer bag.

    My second favorite way to eat basil is also my favorite way to use zucchini...fry bacon, remove bacon and fry slices of zucchini in the bacon grease. When the zucchini is browned add in garlic, parmesan cheese and lots of basil. Cook one more minute. Put zucchini mixture and bacon over pasta with a bit of pasta water.

  7. Hi Susan,,

    Yep, its summer, I just picked my first basil yesterday and held some ripe tomatoes, I made your summer in a bowl, OMG it was soooo good....

    Yum.. enjoy your summer

    Sharon from Western Michigan

  8. My favorite way to store my basil is in a glass of water on the kitchen counter. It stays fresh for a long time, even longer if it roots which it often does if left long enough. If I put mine in the fridge it rots very quickly whether it is wet or not.

  9. Check out the new issue of Cooking Light - they have an entire feature on basil recipes, including one for lemonade that I'll have to try when my herbs catch up with yours!

  10. Oh man am I harvesting basil already.

    I've made a batch of pesto, added it to some salads and pizza (FAVORITE ALERT), put it in wraps and soup and made a nice little dip with goat cheese. Super good.

    I usually just grab it fresh from the garden, but if I have to have it inside, I'll put it in a glass of water and leave it on the counter.


March 2013 update: My apologies for the inconvenience - I know word verification is a pain - but I've had to turn it on to help stop the ridiculous number of anonymous spam comments I've been getting every day. Thanks for your understanding.

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I try my best to answer all questions, but sometimes it takes me a few days to get to them. And sometimes, I'm sorry to say, they fall through the cracks, and for that I sincerely apologize.

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