The best options for how to preserve basil from the summer garden so when the season’s over you’ll still have plenty to use in the kitchen.
Basil is one of the most popular herbs grown by gardeners everywhere. Even people without yards can be found tucking basil into pots on their patios and porches. And what’s not to love about it?
The aroma of basil is the smell of summertime and this beloved herb pairs exceptionally well with other summer vegetables – think caprese salads, pesto pasta with fresh vegetables, and happy hour drinks with muddled basil.
Basil plants are so prolific that it’s easy to grow more than you can use fresh in your favorite recipes. Luckily, there are plenty of other ways to preserve fresh basil from the garden so when the season’s over and your basil has succumbed to the first frost of fall you’ll still have plenty of basil to use during the off season.
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How to Grow Basil
Although we’re focusing on how to preserve basil in this article, the first step is to actually plant and grow it successfully in your garden.
Basil is easy to grow, keeps producing leaves and stems for many months once it gets going in early summer, and comes in many unique varieties.
Learn the how to grow it, my favorite varieties, and techniques for keeping the plant healthy and producing big harvests in this companion article packed with tips for growing basil.
Harvesting Basil from the Garden
One of the best tips for growing basil is to prevent it from flowering. The way to encourage the plants to continue to grow new basil stems and leaves is to just keep harvesting!
When harvesting, take a close look at your plant and cut right above the spot where there are two small leaves.
Leaving these leaves sets the plant up to grow two more stems that you’ll be able to harvest in a few weeks. You can cut your basil plant down pretty aggressively if you always cut at this point.
Just make sure enough leaves remain so the plant can photosynthesize. Sometimes I just go out and harvest a few stems to use in a recipe, but if I want to make pesto or another sauce for freezing I’ll go through the whole patch and harvest as much as possible.
To harvest, you can use regular household scissors. I also keep these clippers and these harvest scissors by my kitchen door for quick missions out to the garden while I’m cooking dinner.
How to Preserve Basil Quickly & Easily
Now that you’re growing basil successfully and clear about how and when to harvest, let’s dive into the multiple options for how to preserve fresh basil. We’ll walk through the details of each method and I’ll share my favorites.
Basil doesn’t like cold temperatures, so if at all possible try not to store it in the fridge. I like to keep it in the garden until right before I’m going to use it.
If you do need to store some for a while, it’s better to keep it on the counter in a jar with water. You can cover it with a plastic bag if you’d like.
Dried basil doesn’t have much taste or smell. This is not a method for preserving fresh basil that I would recommend.
Freezing basil is a much better option. The end product will be more tasty and closer to fresh basil. That being said, although frozen basil retains more of its taste than dried, it’s still not the same as using it fresh.
You’ll want to use it in cooked recipes instead of as a chopped garnish like you would with fresh basil from the garden or store. There are two ways to freeze fresh basil leaves.
Option #1: Whole Leaves
If you’re short on time and energy you can simply freeze the leaves of basil in a freezer bag. Remove the leaves from the stems and place into the bags. The basil won’t retain its bright green color with this method, so you’ll want to use it in cooked dishes like soups and casseroles.
Option #2: Basil Ice Cubes
The second option is a little more labor intensive, but would be a great option if you have a lot of basil to preserve and/or you like the idea of having cubes to throw into recipes.
There are two ways to make basil ice cubes. One way (photo above) is to use scissors to cut the basil into strips. Place the strips into the ice cube trays and then pour water or oil to fill up the cells. When they’re completely frozen transfer into your container of choice.
The other way to freeze basil ice cubes is to place the basil leaves into a food processor with enough water or oil to make a thick paste. When the basil and oil or water is well mixed, fill an ice cube tray with the slurry and freeze. When they’re completely frozen transfer into your container of choice.
You can use freezer bags, wide mouth glass quart or pint jars, or any kind of freezer safe container. I’m not a big fan of plastic, so I use glass whenever I can.
Depending on how you’re going to use the basil cubes, most of the time you can just throw the whole thing into the dish without defrosting.
My Favorite Ways to Preserve Basil
I have a running joke with my husband that some day we’re going to open a tiny food cart or store called Sauce. We’re all about the sauces around here! We tend to eat one dish meals because they’re easy and tasty.
They usually consist of a base like rice, quinoa or pasta, mixed with roasted or sautéed seasonal vegetables from our garden, and a sauce to top it all off.
And instead of making the sauces one by one when we need them, I’ve found it to be much more efficient and inexpensive to make larger amounts of each recipe during the peak harvest season of the various herbs that are featured in each sauce.
By August each year my twelve basil plants are usually pumping out way more basil than I can use fresh. So, I fill a large basket with as much basil as I can harvest and spend a couple hours in the kitchen making my favorite sauces.
Here are my top picks.
Pesto is likely the most popular way to preserve basil. I start with the below recipe and then mix in other herbs like parsley, cilantro, onion chives, and even kale! Start with a base recipe and then experiment. I also skip the cheese most of the time.
Megan’s Base Pesto Recipe
3 cups packed fresh basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup walnuts (or sunflower seeds or pepitas or hemp seeds)
1/3 cup olive oil (or sunflower or canola)
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
Add cilantro, parsley, onion chives, kale, or anything else that would improve the taste!
Put everything into a food processor and blend until it’s your desired consistency.
I freeze pesto in half pint or full pint glass jars and store them in my chest freezer for up to a year. Although they never make it that long!
The aforementioned veggie bowls that are a staple of our dinnertime meals year round would not be complete without a tasty sauce on top. There’s nothing like a vibrant green summer sauce in the middle of winter to brighten up your evening!
These are my top picks.
Chimichurri from the Blender Girl
Easy Green Goddess Dressing from Cookie and Kate
Miso Herb Sauce from Sprouted Kitchen – We love tacos at our house because they’re quick and easy and you can load all kinds of toppings onto them. These tacos feature shiitake mushrooms and French green lentils topped by an Asian Taco Sauce. When you read the recipe it might sound like an odd combination of ingredients, but trust me, it works!
Basil Pesto Vinaigrette from Cookie and Kate
I make big batches all of these recipes, pour them into half pint or full pint glass jars, and keep them in the chest freezer.
Other Ideas for Preserving
Hands down my favorite way to preserve basil is to make pesto and sauces. But, if you’re feeling creative in the kitchen there are lots of other ways to preserve basil and some of these would make amazing gifts for friends and family.
Look for recipes on Google or Pinterest. There are lots out there!
Once you master the techniques of growing basil successfully you’ll be harvesting large amounts to preserve in no time.
The extra effort to preserve basil will be worth it because you’ll be rewarded with a stash of this vibrant taste of summer that will make cooking during the winter a joy and will have you plotting to plant even more basil plants next season.
Additional Resources for Growing and Using Herbs in Your Garden
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My how-to video series, All About Gardening with Herbs: Your Guide to Growing, Harvesting, Cooking With, & Preserving a Bounty of Herbs, is my most popular class! If you’re ready to delve more deeply into the wondrous world of growing your own herbs, find out more here.
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