Photo: Oxmoor House
SEASON: Spring through fall
CHOOSING: Basil is delicate and bruises easily, so look for stems that aren’t wilted and don’t have dark spots. The ideal would be basil stems that don’t have a flower bud or have just a small one. Avoid those with long flower stalks and seeds.
STORING: For gardeners, the best way to keep basil fresh is to cut just what you need when you need it. If you are buying basil or bringing it inside from the garden to have on hand, store it by placing it in a vase of water on your kitchen counter—after giving the stem a fresh cut—for up to a week. Be sure to change the water every few days. If it’s wilted, place a produce bag loosely over it until it revives. Do not cut or pinch leaves from the stems until you are ready to use them.
GROWING: Basil is easy to grow, and there are many types, such as sweet, lemon, and cinnamon basil, in varying sizes, shapes, and colors. Since basil can be killed by the slightest frost, plant seeds or transplants in spring after the soil has warmed—the same time you plant tomatoes—in full sun in a compost-enriched soil. Harvest all summer long. Containers are a great place to grow basil. Although the plant may look a little lonely at first, put only one plant in a 12- to 14-inchwide container. Even the small-leaved types will fill the container by midsummer.
Little flowers begin to form at the tips of basil stems. These aren’t edible and slow down the growth of the yummy leaves. Snip them off while they are small, or simply use your basil often.