Basil
(Ocimum basilicum)

Basil is one of the most important and versatile herbs grown.  Not only is this annual herb used in many styles of ethnic cooking, but it comes in many flavors, as well.  Sweet Basil is probably the most common types and it is easy grow.  

Cultivation

In colder zones, start basil indoors in mid-spring. The seeds can be sown directly into the garden in warmer areas. Seedlings should not be set outdoors until all danger of frost has past and the plant has four true leaves. Basil transplants easily. Plants can also be started from cuttings or rooted suckers.

When plants are established, pinch out the top. This encourages a bushier plant. Continuous picking will prolong the life of the plant. Basil also does well in containers. Keep the purple type basils in full sun to retain their vibrant colors. Be sure to pinch out the flowers until you are ready to harvest the leaves as it will have the strongest and best flavor at the time they are about to flower. To hold back flowering as long as possible, simply snip off all developing flower buds as soon as you see them. In basil they are easy to recognize by their stacked, nearly leafless structure.

If you let the plant go to seed in the garden you will have baby basils coming everywhere in the next growing season.  In warmer climates they will sprout almost immediately.   You can either grow them where they rooted and thin them or let them get to the "two leaf" stage and prick them out into either containers or other spots in the garden.

Companion Planting

It is said that basil improves the flavor of tomatoes. They also go hand in hand in the kitchen. Basil aids in repelling mosquitoes and flies, which is always, to borrow a phrase, a 'good thing'!

Culinary Use

Basil has a strong clove-like flavor and fragrance. The flowers and leaves are best used fresh and added only during the last few minutes of cooking. Basil works well in combination with tomatoes. Finely chopped basil stirred into mayonnaise makes a good sauce for fish. Use as a garnish for vegetables, chicken and egg dishes. Large lettuce-leaf basil can be stuffed as you would a grape leaf. Basil can be dried in the microwave until crisp but still green.   Much of the flavor is lost this way, in my opinion, but can still add it's distinct taste to pizza toppings and garnish many dishes.  For more ideas and recipes go to our Herbs in the Kitchen page.