Basil is a wonderful herb and is really at its prime right now in the garden !
Nothing beats fresh basil – it just tastes like summer! We just can’t help ourselves but sprinkle some fresh leaves on almost anything we are eating! It’s even good on vanilla ice-cream!
A great summer use of basil is pesto – no need to cook or heat – it is raw seasonal eating at its best!
I make pesto in my food processor – I start by adding 1-6 cloves of garlic, 2 cups of coarsely chopped basil leaves, 1/2 cup of pignoli nuts, 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, and a pretty decent amount of fresh ground black pepper. I give it a couple pulses, then add a dash of extra virgin olive oil. I keep pulsing and dashing the oil just until the mixture starts to move in the food processor freely and smoothly, then I let it spin for about a minute. I usually end up using about 1/3 cup of oil.
This Classic Pesto is fabulous over pasta on its own or spread onto a fresh slice of artisanal bread. I also like to scoop it up on stalks of celery or romaine leaves.
You can also make it with walnuts or brazil nuts instead of pignoli. And you can add all sorts of other herbs too – try it with basil-parsly-cilantro in equal parts…
Basil also goes great with bitter herbs, balancing the bitter flavor with the basil-sweetness. Try doing a basil dandelion mix! And sometimes just a sprig or two of an herb can add a whole other dimension – I made a pesto with a touch of mint and squeeze of lemon and it was sublime! And you just can’t beat cilantro-cashew pesto!
Pestos make balanced meals – super healthy and energizing for hot languid summer days!
You can also add super-nutritional herbs like Stinging Nettle or Chickweed to your pesto! These herbs mellow the basil flavor a bit but add a more complex background to the pesto.
I also make a Basil Vinegar – it is really lovely on arugula salad. I simply take a new glass bottle of white wine vinegar, open it and pour about 1.5 inches out (use it on a salad). Now that you have the extra space in the bottle, add fresh basil leaves. You can chop them a bit for a stronger flavor faster. But there’s something really cool about having whole basil leaves in the vinegar bottle.
I also usually use the Thai basil – like Siam Queen that gets the fluffy looking dark purple flowers for the vinegar – the whole sprig goes into the bottle flower and all! Lemon Basil is also really fun for vinegar and so is purple basil!
The best way to store basil is to freeze it. It freezes very well. You can freeze the pesto as well – I freeze pesto in serving size containers – some small to be added as a fresh spike of flavor to a tomato sauce and some larger containers for a whole meal of pesto in the middle of the winter.
To freeze your fresh basil:
- Pick it early in the morning, just as the dew dries off.
- Don’t wash it or get it wet… just pop it right into zip lock bags and put the bags into the freezer. You can pack the bags pretty tightly but don’t bruise the leaves smushing them together.
- After a day or so, you can open the bag and crush and crumble the frozen leaves down to make room for more fresh leaves. I keep doing this about 4 or 5 times to get a really dense bag of basil.
I dry a little batch of basil each year. About 1 cup worth. I don’t use dried basil often in cooking, but I always run into a couple cool recipes that call for it …. The flavor is different – sweeter – when dried so I think you really cannot substitute dried basil for fresh in most cases.
I dry it by simply spreading out some of the tips – just about to flower – over a paper towel on a tray or open basket. I usually lay a piece of cheese cloth over so pet hair and dust doesn’t get on them. The basil should be dry within a week. Always feel it and make sure it is completely and totally dry before putting away in jars otherwise it can mold.
This year I want to make a basil salve – so I am going to dry some extra!
Most people don’t think of basil as a medicinal herb
But it originally was used as a salve ingredient long before it was mixed with pignoli nuts and made into pesto!
Any plant with a strong flavor and scent is rich in phyto-nutrients and anti-oxidants. And this is true of basil. Basil is a great example of letting “food by thy medicine” – adding diversity to the diet. It is also great for soothing upset stomachs and calming the nervous system – alleviating depression and fatigue – actually I think it can have these effects when you just take a big whiff of fresh cut basil ….
Basil is a great headache tea especially for headaches caused by tension. Combined with Lemon Balm, Chamomile and a bit of Sage, it can be a fabulous tea for before bed – helping with insomnia and calming recurring and circular stressful thoughts.
Fresh basil juice has antibacterial properties! Mashing or Chewing some up and applying to a cut or insect sting can be very helpful, preventing infection and easing the itch and pain.
According to James A.Duke in one of my favorite herb reference books, The Green Pharmacy, basil has 6 phyto (or plant) compounds that help lower blood pressure. Not as many as celery and purslane, but a nice extra effect for adding basil to a recipe!
Basil is a mild medicine – its cousin, Holy Basil or Tulsi, is much more powerful healing medicinal – but basil is also one of the safest herbs to use with no known side effects.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to use herbs in your life – consider taking one of our herbal courses – our next Herbal Apothecary Course starts next Sunday July 24th – you still have time register! Click here for more info!
Visit our website for lots of tips for using your herbs and living a healthy herbal lifestyle.
Take a look at our 10 Great Ways to Use Your Herbs Page.