Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Growing and Using Herbs, part 1: Basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb of the family Lamiaceae. It is
also called the “king of herbs” and the “royal herb” possibly because of the
name’s meaning in Greek. It is best known as a culinary herb prominently
featured in Italian cuisine, and also plays a major role in Southeast Asian
cuisines. Depending on the species and cultivar, the leaves may taste
somewhat like anise, with a strong, pungent, often sweet smell.

How to Grow Basil

To grow this tender annual from seed,
sow in flats about 6 weeks before the
last frost. Sow seeds and cover with the
growing medium to about twice the
depth of the seed. Keep soil at 70-72
degrees F, and keep moist. Basil
seedlings are very sensitive and most
losses occur due to low moisture and
low temperatures. If not crowded in
the seed flat, do not thin, but let them
grow to 3 to 4 inches before trans-
planting. Basil likes the warmth of the
full sun to grow best. Lift transplants
carefully by the leaves instead of the
stem. Set outdoors only after soil and
air temperatures are warm. One chilly night can set plants back.
Basil can be directly sown in the garden after the soil has warmed up and
nights are not too cool. Be sure to sow to a depth of twice the size of the
seed or heavy rains may wash the seeds away. Purple basil, lacking
chlorophyll, is more susceptible to shock in the early stages.

Harvesting and Storing Basil

Sweet green basil can be dried, frozen in ice cubes, frozen as prepared
pesto or used fresh. Blend fresh basil leaves with pine nuts, oil, garlic
and cheese for a bright green, fresh-tasting pesto; perfect for pesto or
grilled meats. It is also good for making flavored vinegar for salad
dressing or suffused in oil for flavored oil. Purple basil is best used
fresh in salads, and for making flavored vinegar. In the garden, purple
basil is a colorful contrast to annual flowers, and its color and
blooms are useful in cut arrangements.

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