Monday, September 24, 2012

Sweet Basil-fresh to dried for winter!

My garden did rather well this year, in spite of the heat and drought. My favorite plant to harvest is the sweet basil! I love to grow it, pick it, and dry it for use during the winter or to give to friends as gifts. As I was doing this, I wondered if it would make a good tutorial for anyone who would like to do this but perhaps has never given it a try. I was late in planting my basil this year-it went into the ground in late June-but you can plant basil indoors at any time. Start with your seeds :)

 After it has come up and is ready to be harvested it will look something like this:
When I harvest the stems, I cut them a few joints up, so that more will grow back after I have picked it. Here is what my patch looked like before and after I harvested a batch:

 I then bring it in, wash it, and lay it out to dry for a bit. I like to use rubber-bands to hang the bunches with-I loop two or three rubber-bands together like this:
I also like to use a peg board like the one above, with those push pins to hang the bunches from. After the basil has dripped dry, I take and gather 4-5 stalks together and wrap one of the rubber-band ends around the cut ends-wrap till the 1st knot on the rubber-band, then hang on the peg. So it will look like this:
I hang my bunches in an air-conditioned or cool place during the summer months-at least until they are good and wilted, then you may hang them in a vehicle (during the summer when your car is hot inside) for faster drying. I think if you dry them too fast in the heat, you may notice a darker color. I have had good luck with the color when dried slowly or in a cool place. Let them dry completely-the stems and leaves will be brittle not rubbery when ready.

Now I take a gallon-sized zip lock bag and place one whole bunch inside and then crush the leaves gently through the bag:
You may now remove the rubber-band and may need to separate the stems and finish crushing the leaves from the stems gently while still keeping the stem inside the bag. Then I remove all the larger stems-a dear friend of mine suggests that you may tie these stems into bundles with a string and keep near your fireplace or wood stove to toss on the fire for a pleasant smell-what a neat idea!:

You may crush the leaves to whatever consistency you prefer and now you are ready to put them in whatever container you would like to store for winter use or to give as a gift :) I like to use an empty spice jar or even smaller zip lock bags. Enjoy using your basil in soups, meat, tomato dishes or whatever your heart desires!

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