How to Preserve Basil: Savoring Every Leaf the Natural Way

  • By: Linda Simpson
  • Date: November 27, 2023
  • Time to read: 15 min.

As summer days unfold, the kitchen becomes a haven of aromas and flavors, bringing families together and nourishing the soul. There’s a certain magic to this season, and basil, with its vibrant green leaves and intoxicating scent, stands out as one of its star performers. Capturing the essence of this herb allows us to take a piece of summer and savor it throughout the year.

Basil Cubes: A Frozen Delight

Ever enjoyed a dish and wondered about the secret behind its charm? Sometimes, it’s as simple as basil preserved in its freshest form.

How To: Chop the basil leaves finely. Distribute them into ice cube trays, pouring olive oil over each compartment to cover the basil. Once frozen, these cubes are a handy addition to sauces, stews, and pastas, releasing the fresh aroma of summer with each melt.

Basil-Infused Elixirs: Vinegar’s Summer Kiss

Transform your everyday vinegar into a culinary masterpiece infused with the very spirit of summer.

How To: Fill a glass jar with clean, fresh basil leaves. Pour in your choice of white or apple cider vinegar, ensuring the basil is fully submerged. Seal the jar and let it steep in a cool, dark place for 2-4 weeks. The outcome? A fragrant infusion that uplifts salads, marinades, and dressings.

Timeless Traditions: Drying Basil Leaves

Some say that when basil is dried, it sends little postcards of summer throughout the year, teasing the senses with every sprinkle.

How To: Place basil leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet. Allow them to air dry in a cool, shaded spot for several days, or use an oven at its lowest setting. Once completely dry, store them in an airtight container, keeping the spirit of summer just a pinch away.

In the mosaic of life’s moments, it’s often the simple joys that leave an indelible mark – a shared meal, a comforting aroma, or the taste of a cherished herb. By preserving basil in these delightful ways, you’re not just saving a herb, but encapsulating memories, feelings, and the very essence of sunlit days.

If you have a bountiful harvest of basil, preserving it allows you to enjoy its fresh flavor year-round. Here are more ways to keep this fragrant herb:

1. Basil Pesto: An all-time favorite, basil pesto captures the herb’s essence and can be frozen for future use. How To: Blend together basil leaves, pine nuts or walnuts, grated Parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, and a dash of lemon juice. Store in jars, cover the top with a layer of olive oil, and freeze.

Basil pesto is a flavorful condiment that originates from Italy and is loved worldwide. Making it at home ensures freshness and allows you to tweak the taste according to your preference. Here’s a more detailed guide:

Homemade Basil Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (can be toasted for added flavor)
  • 3 medium-sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (optional)
  • A squeeze of lemon juice (optional, but it helps preserve the vibrant green color)

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the Basil: Wash the basil leaves gently under cold water. Pat them dry using a salad spinner or lay them out on paper towels to remove any excess moisture.
  2. Toasting the Pine Nuts (optional): In a skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts, stirring frequently until golden. This will enhance their flavor. Remove them from the skillet and let them cool.
  3. Blending Process:
    • In a food processor, combine the fresh basil leaves and the minced garlic. Pulse until coarsely chopped.
    • Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pulse again.
    • While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady stream. Adding the oil slowly will help it emulsify and prevent the pesto from becoming too oily.
    • Stop the processor and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add the grated Parmesan cheese and Pecorino cheese (if using). Process until the cheese is fully combined with the basil mixture.
    • If the mixture is too thick, you can add more olive oil to get your desired consistency.
  4. Season: Add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. For a zesty twist, you can also add a squeeze of lemon juice.
  5. Storing: If you’re not using the pesto immediately, place it in a jar or an airtight container. Drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on the surface. This will help prevent the pesto from oxidizing and turning brown. Seal and refrigerate for up to a week.
  6. Serving: Use your basil pesto as a sauce for pasta, a spread for sandwiches, a drizzle for salads, or even as a marinade for chicken or fish.

Making pesto at home allows for variations. For a nuttier flavor, you can replace pine nuts with almonds or walnuts. If you prefer a vegan version, skip the cheese or use vegan cheese as a substitute. Always remember to adjust ingredients according to your taste and enjoy the fresh flavors of homemade basil pesto!

2. Basil Salt: This gives you a fragrant seasoning that’s fantastic on a variety of dishes. How To: Mix finely chopped basil with coarse salt (a ratio of 1:3 works well). Spread on a baking sheet to air dry. Store in an airtight container.

Homemade Basil Salt

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup coarse sea salt or kosher salt
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Instructions:

  1. Prepare the Basil: Start by washing the basil leaves gently under cold water to remove any dirt or impurities. Use a salad spinner or pat them dry with paper towels to eliminate excess moisture, ensuring they’re as dry as possible.
  2. Blending Process:
    • In a food processor or blender, combine the fresh basil leaves and half of the salt (1/4 cup). This initial salt will act as an abrasive, helping to break down the basil leaves more effectively.
    • Blend or pulse the mixture until the basil is finely chopped and well combined with the salt. You should aim for a green, grainy texture.
  3. Mixing: Transfer the basil-salt mixture to a mixing bowl and add in the remaining salt. This will ensure a good basil-to-salt ratio, spreading the aromatic basil flavor evenly throughout the salt.
  4. Drying:
    • Preheat your oven to its lowest setting, usually between 150-200°F (65-95°C).
    • Spread the basil-salt mixture thinly and evenly over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
    • Place the baking sheet in the oven and let the mixture dry for about an hour. Stir occasionally to ensure even drying.
    • If you prefer an air-drying method, spread the mixture thinly on the parchment paper and let it sit in a cool, dry place for several days, stirring occasionally.
  5. Storing: Once completely dried, transfer your basil salt to an airtight container. This will keep moisture out and maintain the flavor of the basil-infused salt.
  6. Usage: Basil salt can be used in various ways. Sprinkle it over salads, roasted vegetables, grilled meats, or even on the rim of cocktail glasses for an aromatic twist.

Note: The key to a good basil salt is ensuring that the mixture is thoroughly dried. Any remaining moisture can lead to clumping or mold growth. If you live in a humid climate, always opt for the oven-drying method to be safe.

With homemade basil salt, you have a beautiful aromatic seasoning that brings a touch of summer to your dishes all year round.

3. Basil Butter: Enhance butter with a burst of basil flavor. How To: Blend softened butter with finely chopped basil leaves. Roll into logs using parchment paper, refrigerate until firm, and slice as needed.

Homemade Basil Butter

Usage: Basil butter is perfect on grilled steaks, tossed with fresh pasta, spread on warm bread, or melted over roasted vegetables. Its uses are versatile, adding both the creamy richness of butter and the aromatic essence of fresh basil to your dishes.

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2-3 garlic cloves minced (optional for added flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest optional for a zesty twist
  • Salt to taste

Instructions
 

  • Prepare the Butter: Ensure that the butter is softened to room temperature. This makes it easier to blend with the basil and other ingredients.
  • Prepare the Basil: Wash the basil leaves under cold water to remove any dirt or impurities. Pat them dry using a salad spinner or lay them on paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
  • Blending Process:
  • In a food processor, combine the fresh basil leaves, minced garlic (if using), and lemon zest (if using).
  • Pulse until the basil is finely chopped and the ingredients are well combined.
  • Add the softened butter to the food processor in chunks. Blend until the butter and basil mixture are thoroughly combined. Ensure the mixture is smooth and there are no large chunks.
  • Taste and add salt as needed, then pulse a few more times to mix.
  • Shaping and Storing:
  • Lay out a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap on the counter.
  • Transfer the basil butter mixture onto the parchment paper or plastic wrap and shape it into a log.
  • Roll the parchment paper or plastic wrap around the butter, twisting the ends to seal.
  • If you prefer individual portions, you can also use an ice cube tray. Press the basil butter into the compartments of the tray and freeze.
  • Refrigeration or Freezing: Place the basil butter roll (or tray) in the refrigerator to firm up for a few hours. If you’re planning to store it for longer periods, you can place the roll in the freezer. When you’re ready to use it, simply slice off the amount you need.

Notes

Note: Since this butter contains fresh ingredients, it’s best to use it within a week if stored in the refrigerator or within a month if stored in the freezer.
With homemade basil butter, you have a flavorful addition to your culinary repertoire, ready to elevate everyday dishes to gourmet delights.

Homemade Basil Butter

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced (optional for added flavor)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional for a zesty twist)
  • Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. Prepare the Butter: Ensure that the butter is softened to room temperature. This makes it easier to blend with the basil and other ingredients.
  2. Prepare the Basil: Wash the basil leaves under cold water to remove any dirt or impurities. Pat them dry using a salad spinner or lay them on paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
  3. Blending Process:
    • In a food processor, combine the fresh basil leaves, minced garlic (if using), and lemon zest (if using).
    • Pulse until the basil is finely chopped and the ingredients are well combined.
    • Add the softened butter to the food processor in chunks. Blend until the butter and basil mixture are thoroughly combined. Ensure the mixture is smooth and there are no large chunks.
    • Taste and add salt as needed, then pulse a few more times to mix.
  4. Shaping and Storing:
    • Lay out a piece of parchment paper or plastic wrap on the counter.
    • Transfer the basil butter mixture onto the parchment paper or plastic wrap and shape it into a log.
    • Roll the parchment paper or plastic wrap around the butter, twisting the ends to seal.
    • If you prefer individual portions, you can also use an ice cube tray. Press the basil butter into the compartments of the tray and freeze.
  5. Refrigeration or Freezing: Place the basil butter roll (or tray) in the refrigerator to firm up for a few hours. If you’re planning to store it for longer periods, you can place the roll in the freezer. When you’re ready to use it, simply slice off the amount you need.
  6. Usage: Basil butter is perfect on grilled steaks, tossed with fresh pasta, spread on warm bread, or melted over roasted vegetables. Its uses are versatile, adding both the creamy richness of butter and the aromatic essence of fresh basil to your dishes.
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Note: Since this butter contains fresh ingredients, it’s best to use it within a week if stored in the refrigerator or within a month if stored in the freezer.

With homemade basil butter, you have a flavorful addition to your culinary repertoire, ready to elevate everyday dishes to gourmet delights.

4. Basil Syrup: Perfect for cocktails, teas, and desserts. How To: Simmer sugar and water (1:1 ratio) until sugar dissolves, add a handful of basil leaves, and steep until the desired flavor is reached. Strain and store in the fridge.

A delightful concoction that adds a fresh, herbal twist to beverages and desserts. Here’s a detailed guide to making this aromatic and sweet addition:

Homemade Basil Syrup

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water

Instructions:

  1. Basil Prep: Begin by washing the basil leaves under cold water to ensure they are free from any dirt or pesticides. Gently pat them dry using a salad spinner or paper towels.
  2. Simple Syrup Creation:
    • In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water.
    • Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. This creates a simple syrup base.
  3. Infusing with Basil:
    • Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is clear, add the fresh basil leaves to the saucepan.
    • Push them down so they’re fully submerged in the liquid.
    • Let the mixture come to a simmer and then reduce the heat, allowing it to simmer for about 10 minutes. This process infuses the syrup with the basil flavor.
  4. Cooling:
    • After simmering, remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. As it cools, the basil will continue to infuse its flavor into the syrup.
  5. Straining:
    • Once the syrup has cooled, strain it through a fine-mesh sieve or cheesecloth into a clean container or bottle. This will remove the basil leaves, leaving you with a clear, green-tinted syrup.
    • Press or squeeze the basil leaves to extract as much liquid as possible.
  6. Storage:
    • Transfer the strained basil syrup to a clean glass bottle or airtight container.
    • Store it in the refrigerator. Due to its sugar content, the syrup acts as a preservative and can last for several weeks if kept chilled.

Usage Suggestions:

  • Beverages: Add basil syrup to cocktails, mocktails, lemonades, iced teas, or sparkling water for a refreshing twist.
  • Desserts: Drizzle it over fresh fruit, ice cream, or use it as a sweet base in sorbets.
  • Cooking: Consider using it as a glaze for certain savory dishes that pair well with basil’s aromatic profile.

Variations and Tips:

  • For a citrusy variation, add the zest of one lemon or lime during the simmering process.
  • Ensure that your basil leaves are fresh and vibrant to achieve the best flavor infusion.
  • The longer the basil steeps in the syrup, the stronger the flavor. Adjust steeping time according to your preference.

Making basil syrup at home offers a unique way to incorporate the fresh, aromatic quality of basil into a variety of culinary creations.

5. Basil Oil: A fragrant oil that can be drizzled on dishes for added flavor. How To: Blanch basil leaves, then shock them in ice water. Blend with olive oil and strain. Store in a cool place.

6. Freeze Whole Leaves: For those who like simplicity! How To: Wash and pat dry the basil leaves. Place them flat in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen, transfer to freezer bags.

Freezing whole basil leaves is an efficient and uncomplicated method to preserve the herb. Here’s a more detailed step-by-step guide:

Preserving Basil by Freezing Whole Leaves

Materials Needed:

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • A colander or salad spinner
  • Paper towels or a clean kitchen towel
  • A baking sheet
  • Parchment paper (optional, but helps prevent sticking)
  • Freezer-safe bags or containers
  • A permanent marker for labeling

Instructions:

  1. Selecting Basil Leaves: Begin by choosing healthy, vibrant basil leaves. Discard any leaves that are discolored, wilted, or show signs of insect damage.
  2. Washing the Basil:
    • Place the basil leaves in a colander.
    • Gently rinse them under cold running water to remove any dirt or potential pesticides.
    • Shake the colander to remove excess water.
  3. Drying the Basil Leaves:
    • If using a salad spinner, transfer the rinsed basil leaves to the spinner and spin to remove excess moisture.
    • Alternatively, lay out the basil leaves in a single layer on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel. Gently pat the tops of the leaves with another towel to absorb any remaining moisture. It’s crucial to ensure the leaves are thoroughly dry to prevent ice crystals from forming during freezing.
  4. Preparing for Freezing:
    • Line the baking sheet with parchment paper. This step is optional but can make it easier to remove the leaves after freezing, ensuring they don’t stick to the baking sheet.
    • Carefully lay out the basil leaves in a single layer on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Ensure the leaves aren’t overlapping; this will allow them to freeze uniformly and prevent them from clumping together.
  5. Freezing the Basil Leaves:
    • Place the baking sheet with the basil leaves in the freezer. Let them freeze for a few hours, or until they’re completely solid.
  6. Transferring and Storing:
    • Once the basil leaves are fully frozen, quickly remove them from the baking sheet.
    • Transfer the frozen leaves into freezer-safe bags or containers. Gently press out any excess air from the bags before sealing them, as this will help prevent freezer burn and preserve flavor.
    • If using bags, consider laying them flat in the freezer to save space and maintain the leaves’ shape.
    • Label the bags or containers with a permanent marker, noting the contents and the date. This helps in easy identification and ensuring you use the oldest stock first.
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Usage Notes:

  • Frozen basil leaves can change in texture, becoming softer upon thawing. While they might not be ideal for garnishing, they are perfect for incorporating into cooked dishes, where texture isn’t as critical.
  • To use, simply take out the required amount of leaves and add them directly to your dish. There’s no need to thaw them in advance for most recipes.

By freezing whole basil leaves, you’ll have a stash of this aromatic herb ready to use, capturing the essence of fresh basil even when it’s out of season.

7. Basil Powder: Great for seasoning. How To: Dry basil leaves (either air dry or in a low-heat oven). Once completely dried, grind them into a fine powder using a food processor or spice grinder. Store in an airtight container.

Making Basil Powder

  • Fresh basil leaves
  • A colander or salad spinner
  • Paper towels or a clean kitchen towel
  • A dehydrator or oven
  • A grinder (a coffee grinder works perfectly)
  • A fine-mesh sieve
  • An airtight container or jar for storage
  • A label or marker for labeling

Materials Needed:

Instructions:

  1. Choosing and Prepping the Basil:
    • Select fresh, vibrant basil leaves. Discard any that are wilted, discolored, or damaged.
    • Place the basil leaves in a colander and rinse them under cold water to remove any dirt or debris.
    • Shake off excess water and spread the leaves on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel, patting them gently to remove any remaining moisture.
  2. Drying the Basil Leaves:
    • Using a Dehydrator:
      • Arrange the basil leaves in a single layer on the dehydrator trays, ensuring they don’t overlap.
      • Set the dehydrator to the recommended setting for herbs (usually around 95°F or 35°C, but check your device’s manual) and dry until the leaves are completely brittle, which could take 12-24 hours.
    • Using an Oven:
      • Preheat your oven to the lowest possible setting, ideally not exceeding 180°F (82°C).
      • Spread the basil leaves on a baking sheet in a single layer.
      • Place the baking sheet in the oven, leaving the oven door slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape.
      • Dry the leaves for 2-4 hours, checking periodically. The leaves should be completely dry and crumble easily between your fingers.
  3. Grinding the Dried Basil:
    • Once the basil leaves are fully dried and have cooled to room temperature, place them in a grinder.
    • Pulse the grinder in short bursts until the leaves are turned into a fine powder.
    • If you notice any large pieces or clumps, you can sift the basil powder through a fine-mesh sieve and regrind the larger bits.
  4. Storage:
    • Transfer the basil powder into an airtight container or jar. Ensure the container is completely dry to prevent any moisture from getting in, as this can lead to clumping or mold growth.
    • Label the container with the contents and date to keep track of freshness.
    • Store the container in a cool, dark, and dry place. Properly stored basil powder can retain its flavor for several months.

Usage Suggestions:

  • Use basil powder in sauces, soups, dressings, or any dish where you desire a burst of concentrated basil flavor.
  • Since the flavor is concentrated, start with a small amount and adjust to taste.
  • It can also be mixed with salt or other spices to create unique seasoning blends.

8. Pickled Basil: Add a tangy twist to your basil preservation. How To: Pack fresh basil leaves in sterilized jars. Pour over a boiling pickling solution (vinegar, water, sugar, and pickling salt). Seal and store in a cool, dark place.

With these methods, your basil bounty can find its way into meals across the seasons, providing a delightful reminder of summer’s green generosity. Enjoy experimenting with these and finding your favorite ways to savor basil’s vibrant flavor! 🌿

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