How’s your herb garden? Basil is a culinary herb most often featured in Italian cuisine. Basil is commonly used fresh in cooked recipes. In general, it is added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor.
If you are not plucking fresh leaves to use immediately in your dish, air drying or room drying is the easiest and least expensive method for preserving herbs. Moisture evaporates slowly and naturally during air drying, leaving the herb oils behind. When it is dried, it loses some of it’s potent flavor when compared with fresh picked leaves. However some prefer dried basil over fresh, and the dried herb will last for some time.
Recently, there has been much research into the health benefits from the essential oils found in basil. Scientific studies have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, and potential for use in treating cancer [wikipedia]. It is traditionally used for supplementary treatment of stress, asthma and diabetes in India.
The best time to harvest Basil is just before they flower and go to seed. This is when the oils are their most strongest. Cut off some of the branches of mature plants (I tend to cut half so it keeps on growing). Then rinse or soak for a few minutes in cool water. Remove and shake off the excess moisture and hang branches upside-down in a relatively dry environment. Depending on your room humidity level, it will take several weeks to perhaps 4 weeks to dry to brittle.
When dry, remove leaves from stems and avoid crumbling the leaves until ready to use, to preserve more of its flavor. Store in a cool dry dark place in an air-tight container or Zip plastic bag. Vacuum sealing in a vacuum food sealer will greatly increase usable shelf life.