All That Bountiful Basil

by Jacqueline A. Soule.

Last month I wrote about basil  in these pages.  In my Gardening With Soule Blog I wrote about how to grow basil in the desert.  Now let’s look at more basil uses, and some plant care in our heat not discussed previously.


Hot Plants. 

If you bought your basil plants at a big box store, chances are it is not an ideal variety of basil to grow here.  In the image below, the plant shows signs of both excessive light and heat stress with yellowing leaves and some sunburned and browned leaves.  Basil harvested from such a stressed plant will taste bitter, not really worth the water it takes to keep the plant alive.  If you did end up with a large leaved basil, consider growing it on a covered patio or under shade cloth.

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Some varieties of basil, like this large leaf cultivar, do not appreciate hot sun and high temps.

Basil Blooms.

If you want basil seeds, let your basil bloom.  Otherwise, you should remove and spikes of blooms – ideally before they get too big and use up the energy the plant could use making more luscious leaves instead of flowers.

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These spikes of basil blooms were pinched off the plant.

Remove the spikes of blooms by pinching them off.  Yes, you can use pruners or scissors or a knife, but scientific evidence shows that good old fashioned fingers are the best tool for the job.  Why?  Because when we cut, we cut through plant cells, but when we pinch, the plant ruptures between cell walls.  The plant heals more quickly when the damage is between the cells instead of right through the middle of them.

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The best tool for removing basil blooms is your own hand.


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The plant heals more rapidly when hand pinched, even though a tidy-minded person might not like the ragged look to the pinch site.

Harvesting Basil.

You can harvest basil leaves any time you need some.  If you are careful about it, your plant will just keep making more leaves, especially if you harvest just above a node of young leaves.


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Yes you should pinch your harvest – just like you pinch blossoms. The scissors are in the picture to indicate where to cut – just above a node of young leaves.


Using Your Basil.

Tons of ways to use basil, but I am fond of one I just learned – basil spreadable pseudo-cheese.  (I have to come up with a better name!)

You will need: a clean bandanna, a quart of plain Greek yogurt, a bowl, a colander, time, and some basil.

Put the colander into the bowl and line the colander with the clean bandanna.  Dump the yogurt into the bandanna and let this sit in the ‘fridge overnight.  The whey will drip out of the yogurt.  (You can leave it for 24 hours if you want.) From a quart of yogurt, I got almost a cup of whey.

This un-wheyed yogurt becomes thick and spreadable, almost like cream-cheese, and it does not stick to the bandanna!  It is not as creamy as cream cheese, but if you add flavorful herbs like basil, it is entirely tasty!

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Chop your basil finely for this dish.


Dump your yogurt-cheese out of the bandanna.  Harvest some basil, chop it up, mix it into your yogurt, and let it sit for at least four hours to help the basil flavor to merge into the cheese.

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Let your basil flavor infuse into the cheese for at least 4 hours. Longer is just fine.

Using the Whey.  

Since I got a cup of whey, I did not want to throw it away.  I tried a sip – not my cup of tea!  Since it is an animal product it shouldn’t go into the compost heap either.  I put it into a smoothy with sweet fruit and with a dollop of honey it was fine.


About Jacqueline Soule

JAS avatarJacqueline’s latest book “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It is divided into warm season and cool season growing so you can easily select other plants to grow this summer.

All text and all photos (except where noted) are copyright © 2015 by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.



DIY cheese, yogurt, chiltepin, edible flowers, simplicity, mystery

Written and photographed by Linda McKittrick




After all the the hoopla, meal sharing, and resolution making of the season I am ready for some simplicity.  This “do it yourself” cheese making recipe echos the cheese making “en el campo”, but requires no milking of a ruminant animal (at least not by you). It is simple and, allows for some mystery to unfold as well. It is best made in small batches.

Presently, I am making this kind of yogurt cheese, rather than Queso de Campo, as we are letting our cows recondition right now. I share these photos of previous cheese making times on the ranch so you feel connected to the larger process. In the recipe that follows, you will have whey (the liquid-y part that separates, as the cheese forms – photo below) as well. It is HIGHLY nutritious for all of us animals, whether two or four legged, so do not toss it.  At the ranch we add it to foods, or share it with the dogs or the chickens.  In the yogurt recipe, the whey is salty, so best not to share with your animals, but great to add to your own salads, fermented concoctions, etc.  Yours will look clearer than that in the bucket below.


I’ll give  you the base recipe, then suggest some fun ingredients; 24 hours later, as you unfold the cheese cloth towel,  tune into the tastes and colors and textures that emerge. The magic comes as your tongue tunes into the eddies of taste that happen as the chile, or herbs, or flowers that you added, undergo an alchemy. It is an alchemy that you set in motion, but then must let go of. Good practice for life generally.

THE BASIC RECIPE: Line a colander with a dish towel. Place colander over a bowl. Combine the yogurt and salt in the dish towel and make sure the salt is mixed in well. Bundle up the towel and either place it in the fridge for 24 hours, or, hang it over a bowl. Either way the yogurt and salt interact, while the whey drips below. Try making the “basic” recipe to give you a baseline taste for your tongue. You could then add mint or herbs from the garden on top, with a bit of olive oil.

1  32-ounce container yogurt (note: you can use your own home made yogurt. But whether you make it or buy it, it needs to be Full Fat.  Try goat or sheep yogurts if you can find them. Variety is important.)

1 tablespoon rock salt ( the culinary rock salt, not ice cream making salt)

Olive Oil

ALCHEMICAL RECIPE : begin with the Basic Recipe:  line colander, add theyogurt and salt, and then try adding:

1 teaspoon dried crushed chiltepins (not only the chile flavor, but the COLOR,  infuses into the cheese as well.And each batch is a little different) for a Chiltepin Cheese.


A few tablespoons of fresh herbs from your garden. Rosemary is in high season in the SW right now, and you you can use both the herb itself as well as the flowers as well.  Edible flowers are really a delight to use as the flowers add both flavor,  often not what you expected, as well as beautiful colors.

Then with all the ingredients mixed, tie up your cloth, place over bowl, and let the magic happen. In 24 hours, when you open the cloth, the transformation will be yours to savor.  Eat by the spoonful. It is great on sliced radishes, or rolled in fresh greens from the garden (both growing robustly in our gardens right now, here in the SW).  Or add to a lightly sauteed vegetable dish.

I place my finished cheese in a glass container (so I can enjoy it visually) and add olive oil to seal it, even while I cover it with a lid. It seems to stay fresher. Keep it in the fridge.

Below: The Chiltepin Cheese Version




Below: Using edible flowers right before tying up the cloth.