This Fuller Life

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Holy Basil 1st Harvest

*This post is part of a series of posts based on my research as a masters student at UGA. To find out more go to my page Holy Basil Research.

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Do you remember, just a few shorts weeks ago, when I planted all of my Holy Basil plants? Much to my delight, they all survived and went from this…

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…to this! In just 6 weeks. 

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Though, in the spirit of full-disclosure. You should know we made a few mistakes along the way. Immediately after planting (on a Friday) I gave the plants a nitrogen boost by applying a small amount of Nitrate of Soda. The weekend came and went and the following Monday I came out and was dismayed to find that the bottom leaves of all my plants got burned by the nitrate of soda. We applied too much and didn’t water enough. We watered them really well that day to dilute the nitrogen in the soil and hoped for the best.

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Most of them came out unscathed and a few weeks later we pruned them back to the 3rd node to encourage branching. A node on a plant is just where a set of leaves come out. There is a node at the base of this plant, and I counted up two more and that was where I made my cut.

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I performed this pruning nervously across the field and hoped for the best.

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I didn’t think it was possible that they would make it. They looked so fragile and tiny.

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But as the weeks went on, the plants thrived.

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Before I knew it, they looked like this! My first trial is to compare 14 different varieties of holy basil and choose two or three of the best ones for performing our manipulative experiments. We are pleased to see some major differences in growth pattern, scent, leaf pigment, thickness of stem, and color of flower. It is amazing to see such diversity, and it will be even more intriguing to see how they differ in terms of essential oils and antioxidants.

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The time to harvest is when they are in full flower.

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So, I made a table to document the fresh weight of each plant and gathered all of my supplies on Tuesday morning for harvest.

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The process went like this. For uniformity and in keeping with what I read in the literature, we cut each plant 15cm from the base and used a ruler to measure each plant before cutting.

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Then we would set the cutting into the bowl and measure the weight in grams.

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We would record the weight for that plant and create a tag.

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The labeling went like this. F(13) f (i). For Rep 1, block F, had the plant 13(this number corresponds to its plant name). Each block had 6 plants that were labeled a-f in a pattern. Then, if it was over 600 grams we would divide the plant into 2 bundles and over 900 grams we would divide it into 3 bundles and this is reflected in the (i)(ii)(iii).

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Each plant was weighed, and labeled in this manner, and then bundled.

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I had two helpers to start, so one person made the cut, another person recorded weights and made labels, and the third person bundled.

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After each row we would walk up the bundled holy basil to the kitchen to hang.

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We mounted eye hooks in the ceiling and strung up 2 pieces of cattle panel with wire for our drying racks.

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We used bent wire and paperclips to hang the holy basil bundles on the rack. Shout out to my great helpers Penelope and Jean. I couldn’t have done it without them. Literally and truly. Thank you!

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Then we went back and did the same process for the second row.

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Then the third row, then the fourth row. Then the fifth row.

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Until we finally finished and took our last load to the kitchen.

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It got a little crazy at the end. Shout out to Nicole in this picture. I don’t know if that is a happy smile, or an ‘I don’t know why I said I would help with this’ smile. Regardless, thank you for your help!

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We fit all the holy basil on our drying racks, cleaned up the kitchen, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

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Then I did a happy dance about having my first official set of data.

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And I stood proudly and triumphantly by my harvest :).

We will wait for 1-2 weeks for our holy basil to dry, then we will take dry weights of each plant, collect samples to take to the lab and the leftover will get mixed together and added to the tea blends we make for the UGArden produce stand. Nothing goes to waste.

If you are interested in reading more, you can check out my Holy Basil Research page where I will be posting updates frequently about grad school and my master’s thesis research.

Do you dry your own herbs? What kind of drying setup do you use?

 

2 Comments

  1. Is it best to first dry the herb, or immediately distill the plant after cutting when extracting the oil?

    • Noelle Fuller

      May 17, 2017 at 1:08 pm

      Hey Jerry, It depends on your setup and the scale of your processing, the identity and source of plant material, and the desired end result. Because I was doing this for research and I had to keep all of my samples separate, there was no feasible way to extract the essential oil while they are fresh. But some things to consider are sourcing, for example, if you can’t grow the herb you want to distill such as vanilla or another exotic plant then you would have to use dried. Another consideration is essential oil composition. Typically after drying there are fewer monoterpenes because they are more volatile and more sesquiterpenes. Is there an industry standard for that essential oil? If so, then the time of distillation would likely dictate that. I don’t know these details but I am sure there are special situations for each plant. The type of distillation is important too. There can be steam distillation which is more suitable for fresh plant material and hydrodistillation (what I used) which is better for dry material. Also, your capacity. I think a lot of distillers that grow their own herbs distill it fresh so that they don’t have to have the infrastructur, time and labor to dry the product. However, when it is dried you get a lot more essential oil for the volume of material since the water weight is subtracted, so the size of the still would likely be a factor as well. So, it really depends on a lot of factors and it depends on the plant being distilled.

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