End of the Basil Season

Oct 3, 2013

photo credit: Tricia McCauley

It is definitely autumn here in DC.  Political drama rages and yet the gentle cycles of the seasons and the plants continue on.  Wrangling plants and food and, literally, my own backyard helps to bring me a little peace in these volatile times.  Maybe you, too?

As the weather cools, some plants can be sown for a fall crop, but all the famous annual summer vegetables are done for the year.  (An “annual” is a plant that only grows for one year or one season, rather than coming back on its own in every spring.)  Tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant grow in the hot summer weather and then die off as the weather grows colder.

Are you growing basil?  Perhaps you can bring your plant inside for the winter, but growing herbs indoors has never been one of my super-powers, so I have no advice on that front.

At the end of the summer, I cut down my basil plants and store the leaves for use over the winter months.  It’s important to do this before the first frost!  Frost will kill your basil plants, and all the lovely leaves will be lost.

With a little preparation, basil leaves can be stored in your freezer.  I think dried basil is disappointing — but frozen basil gives you the delightful scent and taste of garden-fresh leaves when it’s added to soups or stews or made into pesto.

About that “little preparation” – it is necessary.  If you toss your whole basil leaves into a freezer bag, they will darken and get soggy and unpleasant – just like a plant left outside in the frost.

If, however, you blend them up with just a little olive oil, you’ll preserve the lovely flavor and have a paste available to cook with.  Super simple:

  1.  Strip the leaves off the stems.
  2. Put the leaves into a food processor or blender.
  3.  Blend while drizzling in a little olive oil.
  4.  Put the paste into a freezer bag and gently press it flat.
  5.  Put bag(s) into the freezer.

You can also go all-out and make pesto, which freezes really well.  Here’s a recipe:

3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/3 cup pine nuts (pignolia)

½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

3 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

Dash of lemon juice (optional)

½ cup olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Place all the ingredients, except the oil, in a food processor or blender.   Mix until everything is well chopped, then slowly add the olive oil in a thin stream to form a fairly smooth paste.  If using a blender, it may be necessary to pre-chop the herbs and nuts by hand.  Pesto will keep refrigerated for a couple of weeks.  Keep in an airtight container and cover with a thin layer of foil, if desired, to prevent discoloring.  It can also be frozen – see above.  🙂

What if you don’t have a blender or food processor?  Simply chop the leaves up as small as possible and mix with some olive oil.  All good.

*Bonus tip: you can preserve cilantro leaves in the same way!*

Happy harvest preserving to you!