How to harvest and store basil properly

basil plants
basil plants

To prevent the herb from dying right after you have bought it, you need to harvest and care for basil properly. Here is how to keep the plant for a long time, despite regular harvesting.

Basil is one of the classics among kitchen herbs. The fresh green leaves refine salads, soups and sauces and bring the aroma of Italy into your own four walls. The plant variety of basil is huge. Different types of basil planted in beds and pots provide a regular harvest and very different flavors. Properly stored, you get an exciting seasoning for the kitchen all year round.

The most popular for cultivation at home is the well-known large-leaf Genovese basil. But especially in the garden, try small-leaved dwarf or French basil (Ocimum basilicum v. minimum), lemon basil (Ocimum basilicum citriodorum), cinnamon basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Cinnamon’) or the red-leaved variety ‘Chianti’. The leaves of the seasoning herb enrich the kitchen, the flowers attract bees to the garden.

Harvesting basil: this is how it’s done

Many people harvest their basil by simply plucking off individual leaves, but this is not the right way to do it, because the bare stems regenerate poorly. Therefore, along with the leaves, you should always remove the appropriate sections of the shoot. However, leave at least half of the stem length and a few strong leaves so that the plant still has enough energy for a new shoot. So keep harvesting the shoot tips, plucking the stems just above a leaf branch as you do so. New side shoots will then develop from the leaf axils, from which you can also regularly pick the shoot tips. If basil is cut and harvested correctly, it will sprout vigorously. Thus, the plant remains beautifully bushy and does not form flowers.

Why does basil die so quickly?

Who hasn’t experienced it: no sooner have you carried home freshly bought potted basil from the supermarket than it looks limp. After a few days, the first stems fall over, and in the end the herb ends up on the compost. This is due to the following problem: Genovese basil offered in the supermarket is sown very densely. As a result, when the basil is watered, the stems of the plants near the ground do not dry properly. As a result, rotting occurs quite quickly and the plants die.

But the problem can be easily solved by dividing the basil. This is not a division in the classical sense, as is the case with perennials, because several plants grow close together in each purchased basil pot. Strictly speaking, the seedlings are simply pricked out. To do this, you will need potting compos, two flower pots with a drainage hole, preferably made of clay, two shards of clay or stones, to cover the holes, expanded clay and some gardener’s fleece.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Cover the drainage hole of the plant pots with the clay shards or stones. This will prevent the soil from being washed out when watering.
  • Now fill in about one to two centimeters (0.8 in) of expanded clay. This will ensure that waterlogging does not form and that the roots do not rot.
  • Now insert the gardener’s fleece so that the soil does not mix with the drainage layer.
  • To divide, carefully loosen the basil from the plastic pot. If it doesn’t come off, gently squeeze the pot a little all around or cut it open with scissors. Then take the root ball with the soil in both hands and carefully pull it apart in the middle.
  • Now loosen each half of the root ball a little more with your fingers.
  • Now just place the halves in the new pots, fill with the growing soil and water.

Storing and preserving basil

Basil can be preserved in a variety of ways after harvesting, allowing it to keep longer. Of course, the aroma of the herbs is most intense immediately after harvest. Nevertheless, the methods are worthwhile to have something of the delicious herb throughout the year.

Drying basil

Probably the simplest method of preservation is drying basil. To do this, cut whole stems of the plant and hang them upside down in a dark place with as little humidity as possible. Well suited here is the classic pantry. When the leaves are dry after about two weeks, they can be crumbled and mixed with salt or other spices.

Pickling basil

Whether in vinegar or oil does not matter. Basil releases its essential oils and thus its intense flavor well to oil or vinegar.

Freezing basil

When freezing basil, it is advisable to chop the fresh leaves, put them in ice cube molds, fill them up with water and make portioned basil. Another option is to pluck the leaves from the stems, place them whole in a freezer bag and freeze them that way.

Basil pesto

Fresh basil pesto and simply cooked pasta with it is delicious. Making your own basil pesto is also child’s play. Grind pine nuts or peanuts, basil leaves, oil, hard cheese, a few spices and some lime juice in a blender. Season and continue to grind until the desired flavor and consistency is achieved. Bottled in sterilized jars and with a thin layer of oil over the pesto, it will keep for several months in the refrigerator.

How to properly care for basil?

The alleged frugality of basil, as far as care is concerned, has not been fully confirmed in practice. Starving or suffering from drought basil plants often develop hard, pointed and peppery leaves. To avoid this, make sure your basil always gets enough water and an occasional shot of fertilizer. Most basil varieties are easy to grow yourself. In pots with little fertilized herbal soil at temperatures around 20 °C / 68 °F , the seeds will germinate within a few days.

But do not sow basil too densel. You should separate the seedlings early on to a distance of 5 to 8 cm / 2 to 3 in, otherwise there is a risk of fungal infestation at the base of the stems. Then continue cultivating the seedlings in pots or boxes. From the end of May you can plant them in the bed with a distance of 20 to 25 cm / 8 to 10 in. A full-sun place is ideal for most species. But beware: Genovese basil and some red-leaved selections in particular are prone to sunburn, especially if the move from the windowsill or greenhouse to the outdoors is too abrupt. In midsummer, they evaporate too much water in the blazing midday sun. Therefore, it is best to place basil in the garden among taller vegetables or herbs. On the balcony, you may want to shade the plant over the midday period.

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