Basil is a tender low-growing culinary herb highly featured in Italian cooking. It is also prominently used in Southeast Asian countries as Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. The plant tastes like anise, but with a strong, pungent, but satisfying smell.
Fresh basil leaves are not to be stored in the refrigerator if you want to keep it fresh for days or even weeks. When kept in refrigerators, the leaves quickly turn black and slimy. It loses its spicy sweet flavor. Instead of storing them in a refrigerator, store them in a jar of water.
From the market or from your garden, they should have longer stems to be stuck into the jar of tap water. Place the jar in a cool place away from sunlight. For weeks, the basil leaves will stay fresh as long as the water is changed daily. Sometimes the stems eventually root and can be replanted in a pot or garden.
If the basil still has roots and you do not want to replant it in your garden, you can put the roots in a small cup of water, cover the leaves with a plastic or ziploc bag, and secure the bag around the cup with a rubber band. The roots will extend the life of the basil although it takes up a little more room in the refrigerator.
When you by fresh basil in the supermarket the leaves are in plastic bags. You can put the plastic in the refrigerator, or crush the leaves and freeze them with some water in ice cube containers. You can then add frozen basil cubes to soups and sauces in the last 5 minutes of cooking. You will have the flavor of a fresh basil flavor all year round.
When you store the basil leaves in plastic, change the plastic with a ziploc bag. A paper towel may be placed inside the bag to absorb the water.
The use of olive oil is another way of preserving fresh basil leaves. The leaves are dropped into olive oil extracted for cooking. The oil also takes a slight basil aroma and can be used for cooking.
Another way of preserving basil leaves is by drying. Arrange the fresh leaves from the local market or supermarkets so that the stems are shown. Tie the stem one at a time so the leaves would dry. When the leaves are dried store them in an airtight container at room temperature. For best flavor, keep the dried basil leaves for six to eight months only.
When drying basil leaves for commercial purposes, harvest them when the sun is already up to be sure the morning dew has dried up. Then rinse them and pat them dry using kitchen towels.
Stalks are removed and the leaves are arranged on a window screen with another one on top. When the basil leaves are quite wilted and much smaller they are arranged in cookie sheets and placed inside a warm oven undisturbed for overnight. In the morning the leaves could be crumbled and stored in an airtight container until ready to use or give away.