Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an aromatic and flavorful herb used in a variety of cuisines, from Mediterranean to Asian. You can keep fresh basil with roots in a water-filled jar in the kitchen, plant it in a windowsill garden or wrap it in a damp paper towel and store it in the vegetable drawer in the refrigerator.
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Storing Fresh Basil
Storing basil is simple if you plan to use it all in a day or two. Wash the basil, then pat the leaves dry. Wrap in a damp, but not soggy, paper towel and store in the vegetable crisper drawer in your refrigerator.
A large bunch of basil, with or without roots, can also be stored in a corner of the kitchen. Rinse off any soil clinging to the roots. Add approximately 2 inches of room-temperature water to a clean glass jar. Put the basil in the jar, making sure that the roots are covered by the water.
Basil without roots can also be stored in water. Trim the bottom of the stems so they absorb water and stay fresh. Rooted or not, keep the basil in bright, filtered light and change the water every two or three days. If the roots or stems get slimy, discard and start over.
Planting in a Pot
Basil with roots can be transplanted into a 6-inch-deep flowerpot and kept in a bright, sunny location. Use an all-purpose potting mix and wet the mix before transplanting the basil. You can plant it deeper than it was originally, and new roots will develop along the buried stem. Rootless stems can be put in water to develop roots or directly in the moist potting mix.
Keep evenly moist, but not waterlogged. The leaves will wilt if the plant needs water. Pinch off the top one to two sets of leaves for use in the kitchen and to encourage branching, which results in more leaves. Pinch off flower spikes unless you want to harvest the seeds to plant later.
Preserving Basil Leaves
Basil leaves can only be kept for a few days in the refrigerator. If you've harvested the entire plant, or purchased more than you need for immediate cooking, you can preserve the remaining leaves by bundling and hanging upside down to dry, or by spreading on a baking sheet. You can also use a dehydrator at 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit for four to 10 hours or the oven at its lowest temperature for 90 minutes to dry the basil. When the leaves are completely dry, strip them from the stems and store in airtight opaque containers.
You can also store basil in the freezer. Put whole or chopped leaves in a sealed plastic bag or freezer container, and freeze. Basil also freezes well when mixed with olive oil, at a rate of 3 cups of leaves to 1/2 cup oil.
Basil-infused vinegar is a tasty addition to salads, salad dressings and hot dishes. Wash the basil leaves and pack into a 1 cup measuring cup. Put the leaves in a sterilized glass jar and add 1 quart white or red wine vinegar heated just short of boiling, or 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow to steep 10 to 30 days in a cool, dark location, then strain out the leaves and store the basil-flavored vinegar for up to eight months in the refrigerator.