Lettuce-Leaf Basil: A Must-Have Herb for the Avid Gardener

Basil, an herb loved by many, is a delight to grow in any backyard garden. It requires minimal effort, remains relatively pest-free, and above all, its fresh aroma and flavor are simply irresistible.

For those passionate gardeners who seek variety, planting more than one type of basil is a treat for the senses. This year, I decided to grow a delightful mix of sweet basil, Thai basil, and the unique ‘Mammoth’ lettuce-leaf basil.

If you haven’t tried growing lettuce-leaf basil yet, I highly recommend it for next year. This particular variety is an excellent choice for those looking to streamline their harvesting and processing efforts. Lettuce-leaf basil is exceptionally convenient to de-stem, making it an ideal option for those who prefer to take it easy. While ‘Napoletano’ basil remains my personal favorite, this year I opted for the mildly flavored ‘Mammoth’ variety due to the former’s unavailability.

Despite using fresh basil regularly, I always find myself with an abundant supply in my garden. As mid-July approaches, the basil plants start to blossom, each type flowering at its own pace, based on when it was previously harvested.

To make the most of your basil harvest, it’s best to pick the leaves just as the flower spikes become visible but haven’t fully expanded. At this stage, the plants have an abundance of flavorful leaves ready for use. Today marked the day of my basil harvest in the garden, although I confess that I probably should have started last week.

Typically, I dry all my sweet basil and use Thai and lettuce-leaf basil fresh. But this year, with an excess of lettuce-leaf basil, I had to find a way to preserve it. After drying and freezing a portion, I still had a considerable quantity remaining. That’s when I turned to an alternative preservation method known as salt drying.

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Unlike dehydrating, salt drying harnesses the power of salt to draw out moisture and preserve the herbs. This approach ensures that the delicate aromas of the herbs remain largely unaffected. While salt drying is suitable for most herbs, I doubt salted mint would find much use in any culinary endeavor.

To salt dry basil, you’ll need a clean, wide-mouth jar. Begin by placing a layer of salt at the bottom. Then, alternate between layers of washed and dried basil leaves and salt. I personally prefer to use kosher salt, but feel free to choose according to your preferences. (Remember, the basil’s flavor will overshadow any subtleties of expensive specialty salts.) Sometimes, I add a few peppercorns or fennel seeds to the salt for an added touch. Once the jar is full, store it in the refrigerator, and it will keep for months.

When you need some basil for your recipe, simply take out a few leaves from the jar and adjust the salt content as desired. As you continue using the leaves, you’ll be left with a jar of basil-flavored salt, a versatile ingredient in your kitchen!

I’ve discovered that this preservation method works exceptionally well with Thai or holy basils. The leaves can be easily added to sauces, maintaining their distinct flavor. The small leaves of lettuce-leaf basil fit neatly into the jar, making for orderly layers. However, the ruffled edges did make it somewhat challenging to pack them tightly into the salt. Consequently, I may not have fit as much basil into the jar as I would have with Thai basil.

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I’m grateful that basil is a herb that lends itself well to preservation, considering the sheer abundance I usually have by mid-summer. It’s a good thing I actually use basil, unlike the radishes I plant without any apparent reason.

So, as you plan your garden for the upcoming seasons, don’t forget to include the versatile and delightful lettuce-leaf basil. Experience the joy of growing and preserving this unique herb, adding a fresh aroma and flavor to your culinary creations throughout the year.

Remember, if you ever need to find high-quality basil seeds, equipment, or gardening advice, check out the Ames Farm Center. They offer a wide selection of products to help you cultivate a thriving garden.