Smart About Basil

By Jack Ruttle

Ever hear that it's better to harvest in the morning, when the plants are fresh and cool? Well, that's obviously better than in the heat of the midday sun. (And realistically, you pick when you have to.) But all things being equal, you might be better picking some things just before dusk, not at dawn.

Diana Lange, while studying post-harvest physiology of basil at the University of Michigan, turned up these surprising facts: Basil kept best at 60° F (not refrigerated) in perforated plastic bags. Furthermore, basil picked at the end of the day kept twice as long as basil picked early in the morning. In fact, basil picked in the evening and stored in plastic in a cool, dark place lasted for 12 days.

Somehow, basil that has just spent the day building up sugars is better able to withstand the shock of being cut than basil that has been hard at work growing all night long.

This is useful information for anyone that grows and harvests a lot of basil and can't use or process it all at once. It's potentially crucial for anyone growing and selling fresh basil. Harvesting in the evening is often no extra trouble, and there could be a significant benefit.

Jack Ruttle is a former senior editor at National Gardening.

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