Common or sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) was named "most likely annual to succeed" in herb high school and reigns today as one of the most popular herbs in the world. But even the best and the brightest stars of the herb garden must bathe before dinner. So after harvesting your plants' fragrant, emerald-green leaves, take a few minutes to wash off dust, dirt and bugs before making or brewing a cup of .
Mark it on your calendar: 50 to 60 days after you plant basil seeds in your garden, you can begin to harvest. Harvest is best accomplished on sunny mornings before the day becomes too hot. You'll make the crop last longer if you pinch off leaves as you need them instead of taking out an entire stem. While you're at it, pinch off any flowers too as soon as you see them, since they'll eventually make the stems woody and the leaves bitter. You'll want to remove the plants, stems and all, from the garden before the first frost.
Cleaning harvested basil is as simple as it gets: You plunge the leaves or sprigs into a bowl of cold water, swish them around and take them out. Repeat several times using clean water if the foliage is really dirty. The idea is to remove sand particles, buglets and other unwanted stuff from the aromatic leaves before using them in a recipe or drying or freezing them for future use.
No need to scrub the aromatic leaves down with a thick Turkish towel. The best way to dry the leaves is in a salad spinner. If you don't have a spinner, pat the leaves dry between paper towels. Drying is less important if the basil is destined for immediate use. If you plan to dry the herb and use it later, place the washed and dried leaves on a screen in a dry place for several days; then crush and store them in an airtight container. Alternatively, dry sprigs after washing by hanging them upside down in a dry, well-ventilated room.
Basil is best just after harvest, but if you've picked more than you can use, you can store it for a short time in the refrigerator. First, roll the washed and dried leaves in damp paper towels; then seal the rolls in a zip-lock bag. They'll last a week in the fridge. For longer storage, freeze basil into ice cubes. Or use it to make ; then freeze the prepared sauce for up to six months.