Every year I tell myself – plant less basil. But then spring rolls around and I think I can’t possibly have too much fresh basil, can I? And so the seeds get planted and my excitement rises as I pinch my first fresh leaves. Oh, the aroma of fresh basil! The plants start slow, but by July I just can’t keep up. What to do with all the basil?!
Whether you buy basil at the grocery store, farmer’s market, grow it in pots or in a garden, fresh basil is a culinary delight and so very versatile. Not just for pesto and pasta, there are an amazing variety of basil recipes to explore. Let’s talk about how to use fresh basil.
There are over 60 varieties of basil plants. The world of basils offers a great diversity of flavors, aromas, and uses. Here are just a few examples.
- Genovese – large leaf type, typical that most people use
- Medinette – great for pots and slow to bolt
- Pistou – small bush type with uniform leaves and a sweet flavor
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- Dark Opal Basil – excellent seasoning and makes a lovely pink vinegar
- Rubin Basil – purple with good flavor
- Purple Ruffles Basil – like its name, this purple basil has ruffled leaves
- Lime Basil – lime scented
- Lemon Basil – lemon fragrance makes a lovely tea
- Cinnamon Basil – hint of cinnamon and good insect deterrent
- Thai Basil – slight anise flavor
- Blue Spice Basil – has a vanilla overtone
Holy Basil – Ocimum sanctum is a sacred basil of India and is associated with the goddess Tulasi. The aroma and flavor of Holy Basil is complex and has elements of cinnamon and clove as well as an underlying sweet aroma/flavor. Medicinally, Holy Basil is an adaptogen and is healing for those suffering from chronic, debilitating stress. It makes a wonderfully soothing tea and is part of my nourishing herbal infusion.
Basil is native to tropical and subtropical areas and loves sun and heat. While it requires a lot of water, it does best with well-drained soil. Basil is great started from seeds and cuttings. Frequent pruning will keep basil from flowering and losing its flavor. The more you harvest, the bushier you plant will become.
Tips on Growing and Harvesting:
- Keep your basil productive and avoid flowering by taking frequent cuttings
- When your plant is about 6 inches tall, cut off the top cluster of leaves
- Pinch or take cuttings at a leaf node (joint in the stem)
- New branches will grow from the node
- Once the plant reaches 18 inches tall, cut the entire plant back by two-thirds
There are many ways to preserve your basil for year-round enjoyment.
- Hang drying – bundle 3-5 cut stems with a rubber band and hang in a well-ventilated room, away from direct sunlight
- Screen drying – leaves can be stripped from the stems and laid on a screen to dry
- Drying takes about 5-10 days. Store the crisp leaves in an air-tight container. It’s best to store whole leaves to keep the flavor.
- Shelf-life of dried leaves is about one year (loses flavor over time)
Basil leaves will turn black when frozen, but do retain their flavor and aroma. This method is best for storing basil to be cooked in soups and sauces.
Basil can be frozen in olive oil to preserve its color, and one great idea is to freeze basil and olive oil in ice-cube trays for recipe-sized portions.
How to Use Fresh Basil – Seven Basil Recipes
Basil is commonly used in pesto, combined with tomatoes, and included in sauce and soup recipes. But what else can you do with the amazing basil? Here are seven unique ways to enjoy the flavor of fresh basil this summer:
- Basil Vinegar
- Basil Butter
- Basil Mayonnaise
- Creamy Basil Dressing
- Basil Syrup
- Basil Lime Fizz
- Basil and Herb Seasoned Salt
Adding fresh basil to vinegar is a great way to enjoy your summer basil year-round. The basil vinegar is delicious added to salads, salad dressings, and marinades.
Fill a sterilized jar ¾ full with basil and cover with your choice of vinegar. Cap and let the flavor infuse for 3-4 weeks. Strain the vinegar and use as needed. The flavor will last for over a year. If you want an attractive pink vinegar, combine a white vinegar with the Opal Basil. Makes a nice gift!
This is a great savory butter to use on breads, potatoes, fish, or pasta. The butter will last for weeks in the refrigerator, or months in the freezer.
4 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
2 cloves of minced garlic
½ cup of softened butter
ground pepper to taste
drizzle of olive oil (optional)
Combine all ingredients by hand or in food processor and store chilled until ready to use.
Basil mayonnaise is great on sandwiches or anywhere you would flavor with mayonnaise. Simply combine ½ cup of mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon of fresh basil chopped fine, and 1 clove of minced garlic. Adding a pinch of cayenne pepper would make a nice spicy mayonnaise.
Creamy Basil Dressing
This dressing is delicious! Goes well on tomatoes, salads, and as a snack dip for vegetables and crackers. All the ingredients are combined in the food processor until smooth – quick and easy!
Makes 2 cups
½ cup firmly packed basil leaves
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
3 green onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 tbsp. white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. chopped tarragon
2 tbsp. chopped chives
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. dry mustard
freshly ground black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth and keep chilled until ready to serve.
This syrup, especially if made with lemon basil, can be used to add a unique flavor to desserts and beverages. Although it seems like a lot of sugar, the syrup is only used in very small amounts to add flavoring to recipes and beverages, so the overall sugar consumed is actually very small. This is the first ingredient for the refreshing Basil Lime Fizz recipe. Store the syrup refrigerated for two weeks and in the freezer for months.
1 – 1 ½ cup basil leaves
½ cup white sugar
½ cup water
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Blanch the basil leaves by dipping them into a small pot of boiling water for 10 seconds, followed by dropping them into ice water. Drain and gently squeeze out the excess water from the leaves.
Puree the blanched basil in a blender with the sugar, water, and baking soda until you have a dark green liquid (about 30 seconds). Pour the syrup through a fine strainer.
Basil Lime Fizz
2 tablespoons of basil syrup (recipe above)
2 tablespoons of lime juice
Chilled sparkling water or club soda
Pour the 2 tablespoons of basil syrup and lime juice into a glass, and fill about 2/3 full with ice. Add sparkling water and stir.
Making basil salt is both useful for adding flavor to recipes, and is an effective way to dry the leaves for later use.
In a wide-mouth glass jar, alternate layers of sea salt and whole basil leaves. Cover and store in a cool, dark place for at least two weeks. When ready to use, break up any lumps in the salt (from the absorbed moisture) and carefully remove the basil leaves.
Do you grow basil?
What are your favorite ways of using fresh basil?
~ In Health,
Carole at Garden Up Green has great information on growing Basil and Saving Seeds.