How best pick leaves from my herbs?
June 15, 2004 10:18 PM   Subscribe

So I was blessed this past week with a gift of a mint plant and a basil plant. They're both potted and on my windowsill now. Let's say I want to make something with basil. Do I just pluck the leaves off? Is there some sort of special pruning I need do?
posted by pieoverdone to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
Google's first hit is pretty good, but since everyone's been so good in not posting googleable questions lately (I'm proud of you all!), I'll give my experiences briefly anyway: Get the young leaves (at the top of the stem), they're the tastiest and less hard (you don't want to notice hard bits of leaf in your food). Don't cut off too much (obviously, you don't want to kill the plant). Try make more plants by putting cuttings in water or wet soil, you'll find you need them soon enough once you get the taste of fresh herbs.
posted by fvw at 10:30 PM on June 15, 2004

Response by poster: I don't want Google. I want you guys.
posted by pieoverdone at 10:37 PM on June 15, 2004 [2 favorites]

With basil it's important to pinch off any impending buds. If the plant flowers it loses its oomph. Thwart its reproductive urges all summer and you will have plenty of fresh leaves for insalata caprese and the like. The same principle may very well apply to mint, but I've never grown it myself.
posted by zadcat at 11:35 PM on June 15, 2004

You can add stems, and even forming flowers, to pesto. In fact, I like the fibrous quality they lend to the sauce. I find it too drippy if I use pure, manicured leaves. But zadcat is right about the flowers.
posted by scarabic at 12:05 AM on June 16, 2004

I read this short article a while ago about basil. I've been following its pruning instructions and all is going well: "cut just above a pair of leaves. New growth will be encouraged at that point and should be seen within a week's time." And don't let it flower.
posted by josephtate at 12:07 AM on June 16, 2004

The mint is much less complicated. It's also not quite so useful in cooking, although it is really fragrant, and nice to have around. Crush a leaf in the morning and smell it. It'll help get your day of right. Conversely, mint juleps will help you end them right :)
posted by scarabic at 12:28 AM on June 16, 2004

That mint plant can keep on going pretty much forever. Those things are impossible to kill. I've got to disagree with scarabic, though. Mint juleps are just awful drinks. The only way to make them palatable is to use really good whiskey. And then you're basically just wasting really good whiskey. I say: Mojitos!
posted by mr_roboto at 1:51 AM on June 16, 2004

Hey, I'll meet you halfway: Mojitos!

Wait, that was actually all the way to your place. I guess you're buying ;)
posted by scarabic at 2:17 AM on June 16, 2004

If you decide to plant your mint plants outside, be aware that it can be invasive. Plant it somewhere where it can't spread.

We have a mint patch that is nicely isolated and gives us tons of fresh mint every year.
posted by litlnemo at 5:17 AM on June 16, 2004

Whatever you do, don't plant the mint in your garden - it will take over and the underground runners are are real nuisance.

Lots of chopped basil with chopped summer tomatoes, some good olive oil, salt, and pepper. What could be simpler or more yummy than that? My taste buds are all-atingle just thinking about it! And a sprig or two of mint in sun-steeped iced tea is really nice. I have both plants in a window box on my patio, and I just pinch off leaves and go nuts. I also have a Simon and Garfunkle window box, which contains parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme.

I've never tried drying mint, but if you can't winter the basil indoors, you can chop up the leaves and dehydrate them, or just hang stems upside down till they dry, and then have your own basil all winter long. I think plants, and especially edible ones, are great gifts. You have a nice friend.
posted by iconomy at 5:28 AM on June 16, 2004

Mint isn't impossible to kill. Just let my son at it. He eats it be the handful and quickly killed the on I had in a large pot to transplant from our old house to our new one. I'll have to start the mint patch from scratch again.

If you don't trim your mint, it tends to get really sparse looking because the stem will grow quite a bit before putting out more leaves. We brew a big pot of tea each night in summer and toss in a load of mint to steep with the tea bags. Add a little sugar and lemon. I also like to include mint in salads. Of course, if you've got a large patch of mint, you can always make mint jelly. You can also dry mint in the same manner as you do basil. It takes more dry mint in teas, but it's still tasty.

Basil is a bi-ennial. It lives well for 2 years and then begins to die out. To me, basil is the taste of summer. Fresh pesto or basil with tomatoes or basil with chicken or so many other options... It's just good stuff.

Enjoy your plants!
posted by onhazier at 6:17 AM on June 16, 2004

I have some mint growing out of a crack in my driveway. I think it might be lemon mint, but I'm not sure. We put a little bit in our salsa the other night and it was pretty good.
posted by drobot at 6:23 AM on June 16, 2004

Mint and basil, along with cilantro, are key ingredients in a spicy Thai Beef Salad, one of the world's most delectable dishes, in case you wanted ideas.
posted by CunningLinguist at 6:39 AM on June 16, 2004

I think it might be lemon mint, but I'm not sure.

did it have a citrusy, somewhat lavender scent if you crushed the leaf between your fingers?

If you decide to plant your mint plants outside, be aware that it can be invasive. Plant it somewhere where it can't spread.

or plant it in a container in the soil, so it can't spawn runners. I failed to do that last year. The good news is, I don't have to plant another mint patch this year because both the chocolate mint and the ginger mint came back in full force. the bad news is, the mint smothered my lemon balm and lavender plants last year. But, on the upside, the runners aren't so bad -- they make a nice little aromatherapy surprise when you're mowing the lawn ;)

Here's a nice article about basil with a recipe at the bottom.
posted by jerseygirl at 8:13 AM on June 16, 2004

CunningPerson, you got a good recipe for that?

Basil is a relative of mint. It loves sunshine and heat. Prune from the top of branches to encourage a full plant.

Pizza margherita with basil leaves, sliced tomatoes and cheese. Pesto, yummmmm. Sliced basil leaves on pasta dishes, in salads, sandwiches. It's really versatile.
posted by theora55 at 8:28 AM on June 16, 2004

Thai Beef Salad

The key flavors here are the mint, the cilantro and the fish sauce. These are the things that really can't be omitted or subbed (like lemon for lime in a pinch)

The salad is made of torn lettuce, iceberg is fine, sliced cucumbers, tomato chunks and sliced red onion - you decide how much of each you want. Add lots of torn mint and cilantro and basil - not just garnish, but lots. You can add green peppers or carrots or bean sprouts too if you want.

The dressing: 3:1 proportions of lime juice and fish sauce (ie, 3 tbls lime juice to 1 of fish sauce), chili sauce (I like Siracha or you could mince a jalapeno too) to taste and sugar to taste (not too much, maybe a tsp)

Grill a steak or some London broil. An outdoor grill is best but I don't have one and use my G Foreman. Make it medium or rare. Try to get some char on it. Let it rest, then slice it. You can serve it hot on the salad, or cool it first.
Either way, add the steak juices to the dressing before dressing the salad.
Garnish with crushed peanuts if you have them.

(You can marinate the steak first with soy and chili but it's not really necessary because the dressing is so sprightly.)

hey presto - low fat, low carb (if you omit the sugar), and majorly delicious.
posted by CunningLinguist at 9:07 AM on June 16, 2004 [2 favorites]

Mmmmm....sounds great. Now I just have to locate some good fresh mint and basil. (shouldn't be too difficult.)
posted by Vidiot at 10:18 AM on June 16, 2004

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