Thursday, November 15, 2012

What to do with a Large Basil Plant

Basil is my favorite herb. I love it for its taste as well as its fragrance. Last year I planted some basil, but it died. So this year, I planted twice as much. I started several plants from seed, but they didn't do well, so I picked up a couple of starter plants from a local nursery. They did great. 

It's now the end of the season, and the plants were trying their hardest to go to seed. I couldn't keep up with the flower plucking (if you let a basil plant go to seed, the plant will put on a bitter taste), so I decided to go ahead and harvest them.

I dehydrated the first plant, and wound up with two pint-jars of dried basil leaves, which is plenty even for me. I also like to have fresh basil on hand, but that's more difficult in the winter, for obvious reasons. Here's a way to preserve "fresh" basil for use during the non-growing season.

Here is about one-third of my plant, waiting to be washed and culled.

Even though I was diligent in removing flowers or seed pods, a few got by me. As I cleaned and stripped the plant, I saved any dried seed pods I came across. I will collect the seeds from those later.

As I cleaned and removed the leaves, I put them in my blender. Depending on the size of the plant, you may be able to process a lot of the stems with the leaves. However, this plant was so big that I didn't want to include the stems, because they were thick and woody.

Once I had a full blender, I just added some olive oil and blended. You can use a different oil if you want. I didn't measure the oil as I poured it in. The idea is to add enough to coat the chopped leaves, which will help with cohesiveness and also help the basil keep its color after freezing, which is what I'm going to do with this once I'm finished.

I set the blender on medium at first, but the leaves are so light that the blender's centrifugal force just blew the leaves to the sides where the blades couldn't reach. So I used the lower setting, which helped some. I still had to stop the blender and use a spoon to push the leaves back in reach of the blades a few times. If you own a food processor, you might have better luck using that over a blender. I just don't happen to own one.

I poured the chopped-up basil into an ice tray, pushing the leaves down into each opening and packing it in good and tight.

Once I had a full tray, I wrapped it tightly with some plastic wrap. The wrap won't stick to the tray, so I wrapped it halfway around again, where the plastic could stick to itself.

I wound up with two full trays from the basil plant. I let them freeze for about two days. I probably could have taken them out sooner, but I was busy, so I just left them in the freezer until I had time to work with them again. I pulled the trays out, unwrapped them and set them on the counter.

To loosen the basil from the tray, I tried the twisting trick that usually works for ice cubes, but it didn't work so great. I wound up using a knife to loosen up the basil cubes. Not that the basil was really stuck to the trays - I probably could have just turned the trays over and dumped out the basil, but I was trying to be neat.

The cubes came out mostly whole. This is the second time I've processed basil in this way. I think the first time I did it, the cubes held together better. I might have used less oil this time than I did previously.

We typically use these cubes to add to spaghetti sauce. However, they are also good for adding to soups and omelets, or you can drop one into your pan when cooking up meats or stir fry, too. You can use this in any recipe that calls for fresh basil (unless you need whole leaves, of course). This year's basil has a stronger flavor than the stuff I had two years ago, so I add half of a cube to a dish at a time, to make sure the taste isn't overpowering.

After the cubes are removed from the trays, I just store them in the freezer in sealable sandwich bags. You can leave them tightly wrapped in the trays if you want, but the baggies take up less freezer space. Any crumbs or broken cubes go into the bags with the whole cubes. Since I have so much this year, I might seal some in FoodSaver bags, to better protect against frostbite.

So there you have it. Yummy, "fresh" basil preserved for winter use. 

I left a small part of the plant in the ground and will allow it to go to seed, so I can collect the seeds for next year.


  1. Once you pick it (best time is early morning for flavor).. you can keep it in a glass of water. Basil roots incredibly easily. Just make sure you strip the leaves off the stems that are below the water in the glass. Fresh bought basil.. you can do the same thing, just trim the ends a little so the plant can take up water.
    Something else to do.. herbed seasalt mixes.

    If you puree the basil & olive oil.. it can be used later as well to make vinaigrettes, in marinades, over cooked pasta (you have the start to pesto), added to bread dough, etc.

    One that I use a lot.. add more herbs (thyme, garlic, lemon zest, seasalt).. fill the trays 1/2 way.. then when you make poultry you can slip them under the skin of the breast and it will flavor & baste (If you want to avoid the green on the breast meat.. stuff them in the cavity. Makes for fantastic gravy.
    We stick whole leaves in our pizza and even in our salad (and creamy salad dressing.) The stems I toss in when I am making stock.
    I'm replanting a bunch right now that I grow indoors.
    Basil is wonderful!

    1. Wow! Lots of good ideas, Anne (as always)! I think I will copy and print your comment and save it with my basil notes. Thanks for sharing :)

  2. I generally cut off the large stems and dry them like flowers upside down and then put them in a ziploc bag. You provided some really creative ways to preserve. :)

  3. (taps on glass)...still out there? Miss ya!

    1. Yep, I'm still around. Just been busy and haven't been on blogger much. Nice to hear from you!

  4. Email me (sirkonstantine _remove_this_ at gmail dot com). I'm interested in advertising on your site.

  5. Easily remove radiation from any water source.

    Our University of Alabama patented solar desalination product uses no electricity, has no filters to replace, can be taken anywhere and extracts pure water from any contaminated water source. It removes radiation, fluoride, salt, pesticides, bacteria, dirt and other contaminants from any water. It aids people to be prepared for disasters.

    Made tough in the U.S.A.