Preserving Basil: 3 Inspiring Ideas

1 / 7
2 / 7
3 / 7
4 / 7
5 / 7
6 / 7
7 / 7

The temperatures in southwestern Pennsylvania have started to cool down and harvesting herbs has begun in earnest. I wrote about freezing, drying, storing, preserving and bringing in your herbs for The Herb Companion magazine in 2011. Our esteem editor of Mother Earth Living magazine, Jessica Kellner, beat me to the basil punch with her blog post “3 Favorite Ways to Use Extra Basil.” I hope to help you with some ideas that are easy and great ways to preserve your basil.

1. Preserving Basil Idea: Basil Jelly

Basil has been a standout herb in my garden this season and maybe in yours as well! However, it doesn’t like temperatures in the 40s, so I want to get a jump start on the preserving process. I love to make jelly and particularly love cinnamon basil and use Renee Shepherd’s  Basil Jelly recipe, which I shared in an earlier post.

My cinnamon basil plant is ready to be harvested for a delicious jelly!

Yum! My Lemon Basil Jelly and Cinnamon Basil Jelly is ready for tasting.

I also make a Spicy Basil Apple Jelly with sweet basil, which I shared with my blog readers on Lemon Verbena Lady’s Herb Garden in September 2012. Last year, I processed basil much later than this year because the weather was warmer .

My sweet basil plant was a standout in my herb garden.

2. Preserving Basil Idea: Pesto Sauce

I also love making pesto sauce with my harvested basil, especially because I can’t eat much tomato sauce any more. My favorite recipe for Traditional Pesto Sauce is from Lombardo & B?i and Cheap Thrills Cuisine in 1993. Here is their recipe:

Presto, It’s Pesto!

• 4 cups sweet basil, divided
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 6 large garlic cloves, peeled (I usually only add 2.)
• 1/2 cup of pine nuts
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese

1. With a food processor or a blender, purée 2 cups basil with olive oil. Add garlic cloves and purée. Stir in pine nuts and purée again.

2. Add remaining basil leaves and pulse until it forms a runny paste. Season with salt and Parmesan.

3. To finish, purée the mixture one last time. Serve with garlic bread or use as a base for pizza. Makes 1 cup.

NOTE: Try freezing the pesto in an ice cube tray without the Parmesan and, once it has thawed, add the cheese to the mixture. I’ve done this in the past and it works great. Depending on how many cubes I’m thawing, I add a couple of teaspoons of cheese.

I love to use this Traditional Pesto Sauce in homemade spaghetti.

If you have a need for a bigger recipe instead of doubling this one, try Martha Stewart’s Pesto recipe. It makes a bit less than 2 cups pesto. Plus, it uses walnuts, which I like to use in pesto recipes instead of pine nuts.

3. Preserving Basil Idea: Flavored Vinegar

Vinegar is another way to preserve your basil harvest. Sweet basil is particularly good with apple cider vinegar. I use 1 part basil leaves to 2 parts vinegar, (1 cup basil to 2 cups vinegar, or 2 cups basil to 4 cups vinegar, preferably). Let them steep for at least two weeks, then taste and strain. Because I love the flavor of lemon (particularly lemon basil, lemon balm, lemon thyme and lemon verbena), here is a favorite recipe for Lemon Herb Vinegar from one of my favorite herb books, Herbal Treasures by Phyllis V. Shaudys.

I had an herbal “Ah ha!” moment with my lemon basil plant.

Phyl’s Lemon Herb Vinegar

• 1 1/2 cups lemon basil leaves, rinsed and dried
• 1 cup lemon verbena leaves, rinsed and dried
• 1 cup lemon balm leaves, rinsed and dried
• 1/2 cup lemon thyme sprigs, rinsed and dried
• Lemon peel from 1 fresh lemon
• 4 cups white wine vinegar

1. Place herbs and lemon peel in a sterilized jar (about 5 to 6 cups)—I like to place boiling water in my jar first for about 10 minutes to sterilize it.

2. In a saucepan, heat vinegar to the boiling point (you want to see tiny bubbles in the bottom of the pan) and pour it over the herbs and lemon peel. Let cool.

3. Cap the jar with a nonmetallic lid, or, cover it with plastic wrap and then put a metallic lid on it. In 1 to 2 weeks, strain and rebottle into smaller, sterilized containers. Label and store in a cool, dark place.

NOTE: You can add 4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed, to the mixture to make it a Lemon Herb and Garlic Vinegar.

To make Lemon Herb Vinegar, gather lemony herbs, a lemon peel and white wine vinegar.
All photos by Nancy C. Heraud

I use this vinegar in salad dressings and homemade sauces, and to deglaze a pan when cooking chicken or fish.

The fall season in southwestern Pennsylvania is usually glorious and I’m looking forward to enjoying summer flavors in the seasons to come. Hopefully with these basil recipes and tips, you have a great head start.

As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here or my e-mail at and put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” And be sure to visit my blog Lemon Verbena Lady’s Herb Garden. Talk to you soon.

Mother Earth Living
Mother Earth Living
The ultimate guide to living the good life!