Does the average gardener know that the herb, basil, has been around for more than 5000 years? Probably not, but the fact remains that it has and this tasty herb actually originates from the country of India. In some English-speaking countries, basil is also known as Saint Joseph’s Wort, but for the rest of the world’s gardeners and cooks the name, sweet basil, will do just fine. Note that its scientific name is Ocimum basilicum, and that it is also a part of the mint (Lamiaceae) family.
Gardeners will know that basil is mostly considered an annual because when winter comes knocking on the door, this herb plant dies off and won’t regenerate itself next spring. For those lucky enough to live in a warm, tropical climate, holy basil and a cultivar known as ‘African Blue’ are perennials. While there are an estimated 50 to 150 different species of basil, not all of them are cultivars of sweet basil.
Basil is featured in Asian cuisine in the forms of Thai, lemon or holy basil. However, this herb is more common in Italian cuisine and used fresh. Usually it is added at the last possible moment because cooking will quickly destroy the flavor. It’s also one of the main ingredients in pesto.
The best time to grow basil is when the weather is warmer, preferably during the spring, summer and fall months. This fantastic smelling herb likes its soil to be well-drained and prefers to get six to eight hours of sun per day.
There are a variety of ways to start basil, from seeds to planting already developed plants. To start by seed, use peet pots or seedling trays. Be sure to keep the pots and trays moist until the plants start to sprout. After that, they will not require as much water.
In about 10 days, the seeds will germinate. When they get to about one inch tall they will need to be thinned so they won’t compete with each other. The basil will mature in approximately eight weeks.
To encourage growth, harvest regularly using a gardening scissors. Cutting above a set of leaves will create new stem shoots where you’ve cut. When picking this fresh herb, be sure to store any leftovers in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Basil can also be stored in the freezer, but it must be blanched first in boiling water. Remember that drying this herb works well, but it should be used quickly as it does tend to lose its flavor. So be sure to use basil in all your favorite Italian recipes, including pesto. But don’t overdo it! It has a very strong flavor and can put off even the most discriminating palates.
To have basil all year long, the best thing to do is plant some in a pot and take it indoors when it starts to get cold at night. Place it in a sunny area in the kitchen or for those that are lucky to have one, an indoor solarium or green house.
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