Professional chefs say basil is indispensable when it comes to preparing pasta dishes, salads and numerous oriental dishes. In addition to this popularity, basil is easy to cultivate making it one of the most popular spices that are typically homegrown.
However, if you find that you never seem to get basil recipes right or have difficulty growing them in your home, then read on. Below, we have outlined 10 mistakes people make when growing and cooking with fresh basil.
1. You’re not doing enough pruning
One of the attractive qualities of basil is that it grows rapidly. Although this growth seems proper, it is crucial that you prune the plant accordingly to prevent tall stalks with few leaves. It is therefore recommended to prune your basil every couple of weeks to encourage new leaves to continuously grow.
2. You harvest too little or too much
Don't be overcome with excitement when harvesting your basil leaves. This harvesting should be done constantly to encourage the growth of new leaves. Still, this doesn't mean that you can harvest by stems! The best method is to harvest a few leaves from each plant, rather than cutting off an entire stem from a single plant. When you need a lather amount of basil, start the harvesting from the top down, cutting about a third of the plant’s height. Also, make sure that the cuts are right above a leaf, and not below.
3. You keep your basil in the refrigerator
Most herbs that are newly plucked are kept fresh by placing them in a glass of water, then in a plastic bag, and putting the whole thing in the fridge. However, this trick doesn't apply to basil! Basil will remain fresh for longer if stored at room temperature. All you have to do is trim its leaves and place the basil in a glass of water, just like you would do for flowers. Leave the green bouquet on your countertop and under the sunlight.
4. You’re not using enough basil
If you are using fresh basil, you'll be doing it wrong if you only add a small amount like you would for dried basil. Dried basil has concentrated flavor so you'll only need a little amount for meals. In the same vein, when using fresh basil, you should use a higher amount, three times more than dried, to achieve optimum flavor.
5. You add the basil too soon to your meals
When cooking with heat, the rule is to add dried herbs early and fresh herbs late. While dried basil takes time to soak up liquids and release its flavor, fresh basil leaves will simply wilt and lose their potency if cooked too long. When preparing soups, stews, sauces, add the fresh basil in the final stages of cooking.
6. You’re not feeding your basil plant well enough
You can never overfeed your basil plants; they can always use more nutrients. However, utmost care should be exercised to protect the basil from root fungus. Ensure that the pot isn’t sitting in water and that the soil is moist and not wet, as the basil will just keep drinking past the point of health.
7. You discard the stems of the basil
Removing the stems from freshly harvested basil is one of the most common mistakes people make. Although the stems can be a bit bitter and may not be appropriate for use in recipes that require leaves they make a good addition to soups, sauces and more.
8. You use the wrong type of basil
Sweet basil is the most popular variety used worldwide and is highly recommended because it has a milder flavor than most other types and can easily be applied in different ways. If you are new to cooking with basil then sweet basil is most ideal for you. You can then gradually experiment with more potent varieties like holy basil, Thai basil which are more specifically attuned to oriental recipes.
9. You don't freeze your basil
If you don't want to dry your basil leaves and yet want to keep them fresh and longlasting, consider freezing them. Here's a simple guide to freezing basil properly:
- Remove the whole leaves from the stem
- Blanch them in boiling water
- Quickly dunk them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking.
- Leave the leaves to dry
- Lay them flat between layers of waxed or parchment paper in a freezer container.
Voila, you'll have summery fresh basil leaves all year round!
Alternatively, you can blend basil leaves into a smooth puree before freezing. To do this:
- Add 1 Tbsp. of olive oil to each cup of basil.
- Blend into a thick puree
- Transfer the puree into ice cube trays and freeze to create easy-to-use portions, and then place the cubes in a freezer bag or container.
To use the basil cubes, simply thaw to use in marinades or drop into your meals during cooking.
10. You leave the pretty flowers
Basil flowers are very pretty but don't let that trick you into leaving them on the plant. They should be cut immediately so that basil leaves keep growing. This will not only encourage the plant to produce more leaves, but it will also help it stay alive longer.
On a final note, here is a summary of the ideal growing conditions for the basil plant:
- Plant after spring thaw, when daytime temperatures reach over 70°
- Full sun (6+ hours per day)
- Space 10-12 inches apart
- Rich, moist soil that drains.
- Water regularly, but not to the point of sogginess. No standing water.
- Mulch and compost recommended; fertilizer not required.
- Protect during extreme heat; be sure to provide water during drought conditions.