Enjoy Your Basil Crop and Keep it Thriving For the Kitchen
How to use the bounty of basil you created? You planted some aromatic, glossy green basil near the kitchen. You put the “right plant in the right place,” caring for the plant, and harvested it as needed or in the morning as soon as the dew was off the foliage.
Now you have a basil bounty-what to do with it!
First-Increase the Bounty of Basil. Make Some More!
Why? The more you grow and cook with fresh garden herbs, the more you will use them. It is my experience that cooking from my kitchen garden has made me a more inventive and creative cook.
Also, gardens and plants can fail, and the weather can disappoint us. Basil is a small plant, needing few resources, and is easy to propagate.
The Basics of Basil
Basil is Ocimium basilicum. It is so popular around the world that you will hear it called “the king of herbs.” It is native to a wide range of places in Asia, and today you can find it growing wild in tropical or subtropical places.
To understand the botanical names of plants, read this. “Latin for Gardeners, how to read and remember plant names.”
History of Basil
We understand that basil has been cultivated by humans for over 5000 years and even has a long history of use in the Western world. It is said to have been brought to Greece by Alexander the Great, a man who knew quality when he conquered it! Everybody found a use for basil, the ancient Egyptians used it in embalming, and in Portugal, you give it to your sweetheart!
We believe it got to Britain in the 16th century and to North America in the 17 century. We have been finding ways to use it in our lives ever since.
Just What is Basil?
Basil is a genus of aromatic, herbaceous plants in the mint family. You will notice its characteristic ‘Laminaceae’ (mint) features like square stems and opposite leaves.
As gardeners and cooks, it is helpful to learn to recognize family characteristics in plants. The mint family brings us aroma and flavor and tends to discourage predators like rabbits and deer. Plant them near more susceptible plants if you have a pest problem.
Flavor and Scent
What herbs provide us as cooks are flavor and scent. It is very helpful to us as cooks to understand the specific values of the herbs we use.
Look forward to a sweet, slightly spicy, and pungent flavor. You should notice a peppery hint when you taste one of the light, bright green leaves. The scent will be strong, sweet, and slightly citrus-like. You will understand why it is used in the perfume industry as well as food.
This is Why to Make Some More Basil
Basil is an annual plant for most of us; we’ll want new plants every year. (Although we can bring the plants indoors for the winter. In my Zone 10 South Florida garden, if my basil plant survives our humid summer, it can last several years. We are always making new basil plants!
To propagate a new basil plant, take a cutting from your parent plant. See the chart below for where and how to cut. Trim off any leaves that will be under water and remove or trim any very large leaves. (The plant needs energy for growth.) Put your cutting in a glass of water. You will see white roots in two to four weeks. Plant those in light soil in full sun, and keep the soil moist but never wet.
Make some Pesto
If you don’t have six or eight ways in mind to use pesto, you are not trying. And everybody has a favorite recipe. Mine is a classic, and it never lets me down. It is the favorite recipe of the great Italian cook Marcella Hazan. You will find it in her always-relevant book. “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.“
We, curious but insular American cooks, tend to call her the ‘Italian Julia Child.’ It’s a little foolish, but it is meant to be a compliment.
Yesterday I used this recipe to make a batch for dinner. When you follow the recipe, pay good attention to the instruction to make the green base ‘creamy.’ Keep pulling down the part that sticks to the wall of the food processor. I made this batch with walnuts instead of the preferred pine nuts. We liked it, but it does lack the pine nut flavor. Pine nuts have a high percentage of oil and a slight hint of resinous taste. Walnuts are flavorful and tangy but are milder. I think you will like both versions, but I sensed more of the almost grassy taste of the basil in the pesto.
Walnuts are considerably less expensive than pine nuts, try them both and tell me what you think!
Make Basil Infused Butter
I like to make Herb Compound Butter to keep in the freezer. Many quick meals have been improved by a slice of flavored butter. My compound butter recipes call for softening butter, adding flavoring, then forming it into logs. I discuss herb and spice combinations, both sweet and savory, and butter choices. Don’t forget high butterfat makes a difference!
Use this basil butter on vegetables of all kinds, in egg and omelet dishes, and on fish.
More Ways to Use Your Bounty of Basil
- Caprese-your garden-fresh tomato, buffalo mozzarella, snip some fresh basil. This is Marcella Hazan’s recipe too.
- Herb Infused Simple Syrup –these are my favorite recipes for herb-infused syrups. I make them for cocktails and desserts. Basil is delicate; make the syrup (I prefer the bartenders’ double sugar syrup), squeeze the leaves a bit to bruise them, and leave in the syrup for less than 10 minutes. left too long, they can get bitter!
- This will be particularly nice in a gimlet! Also, pour it over a fruit salad, use it on blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, and almost any melon.
- Dress new potatoes with a vinaigrette of olive oil, lemon juice, zest, salt, pepper, and basil leaves cut into the mixture just before serving.
- Slip the basil leaves inside your grilled cheese sandwich.
- Make a watermelon, basil, and feta salad for a hot day picnic.
- Add basil to any green salad. Toss in washed leaves, whole or torn. This works for any of the herbaceous herbs, including cilantro, chervil, tarragon, and mint.
- Basil vinaigrette. Make this in the food processor by pulsing first garlic cloves, then basil. Add vinegar and oil with salt and pepper and a bit of crushed red pepper. This creates a pretty, dense green sauce. Put it on a colorful salad, such as sliced tomatoes.
Too much basil is a good problem to have. You will eat well in any week with too many fresh herbs. As you pursue your time in two of the fine arts, gardening and cooking, here are a few concepts to keep in mind.
- “Right Plant-Right Place” is good sense advice that tells us gardeners to look first at the garden we have and match the plants to the environment and not the other way around. The origin of the phrase? While great gardeners down the centuries may have understood the concept, we get the precise phrase from the great British gardener Beth Chatto. (1923-2018) Considered one of the most important plantswomen of the past 50 years, you can visit the garden she left behind.
- A herbaceous plant is a vascular plant that does not have any woody features. This includes almost all annual and biennial plants and many perennial plants too. Think about daisies, peonies, potatoes, and grasses. There are no woody stems to remain above the ground in
- dormant times (winter). The plant dies back to the ground and regenerates itself from tissue in spring. Expect to see herbaceous plants used for scent and flavor and can be propagated in water.
- Not all herbs are herbaceous; rosemary is aromatic, flavorful, and is a woody perennial. People make beautiful hedges of rosemary. Herbs, remember, are useful, usually small, tasty, and aromatic, but surprisingly varied.
That’s the point of herbs, small, manageable, remarkably easy to grow, and always useful around the house!
Some useful reference ideas:
“My List of Culinary Herbs-Grow Them for the Kitchen”
“Basil, Flavor, Freshness and Health”
“How to Harvest Basil and Keep the Plant Healthy”
Other Sources I Use:
Plant Finder-Missouri Botanical Garden: Basil
This is the plant finder, I always check it when investigating a plant.
Use the research of your state University (or one in a similar climate zone)
I go straight to the University of Florida, a place that understands the climate of my garden.