Dazzle them with basil!
Whether you call it sweet, Thai or Holy, Ocimum basilicum is one of the most frequently used culinary herbs in the world. From savories and salads to pasta dishes and dessert, basil rules the kitchen!
Basil belongs to the square stemmed Lamiaceae (mint) family, along with other culinary herbs such as
lavender, rosemary, and sage.
Basil’s history is long and flavorful. It has been cultivated for more than 5000 years and likely originated in India. Primarily a culinary herb, basil’s history is also rich with other usages. It has been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, likely for embalming and preserving mummies. This embalming quality may have led to its symbolizing mourning in Greece.
Jewish folklore believed it added strength when fasting. In Portugal, plants were part of gifts to lovers or for certain holidays. Today however, it remains the reining herb for flavoring food. It also fragrances perfumes, incense, soaps, candles, and herbal holistic remedies.
It’s a delightful plant with glossy, oval-shaped leaves that are often cupped. Leaf edges can be smooth or finely toothed. Leaves are born oppositely on square stems that eventually flower into terminal clusters ranging from white to magenta.
Basil has several varieties, including the common small-leaf, Italian leaf, lettuce leaf, Thai, holy, lemon, lime, cinnamon, and several reds.
Its aroma is quite fragrant with hints of anise and cinnamon, and it is mildly pungent – except lemon and lime basil, which are pleasingly citrusy.
Primarily used fresh, basil can also be dried – but is more flavorful if pureed and frozen. Although renowned for making primo pesto, it perfumes pastas, salads, sauces, savories and dazzles desserts!
Its compounds and essential oils also possess antioxidant, antiviral and antimicrobial properties. Many of the helpful compounds mostly disappear when basil is dried, so use fresh basil when possible. Such a marvel to have an aromatically addictive flavor that truly makes the medicine go delightfully down!
Cultivating basil is also addictively easy. Sowing indoors is most successful, since newly sprouted, succulent seedlings planted outside will usually succumb to eager-to-indulge midnight diners.
Since basil is extremely sensitive to cold (young plants can succumb in 45-50°; the author can attest to that), start seeds in late May through early June.
Sow seeds atop moistened sterile seed mix in 4” squares. Sprinkle on more moistened mix to barely cover seeds and water to dampen thoroughly. Cover flats with plastic domes, then place in an area that’s around 70°.
Once seeds sprout in 2-5 days, keep beneath a light source. When true leaves appear, plant in six-packs protected inside until lowest temps are 55° or warmer.
Basil thrives in full sun in well-amended ground, raised beds or pots. Keep it well watered. If you’re planning to harvest your crop, don’t forget to distract those undesirable midnight diners whose meal du jour is your delectable basil. Slug/snail/earwig baits that are non-toxic to pets include: Escargo (Gardens Alive), Monterey Sluggo, Garden Safe (Grange, Amazon), or set up the beer bar in a bowl for a real party pleaser!
When about 6” high, continually clip the leaves and tender stems to keep you in basil bliss for the season. If allowed to bloom, the plants will toughen and harvests will be shorter.
There’s nothing like your own fresh citrus-flavored pesto and pizza, salads or grilled poultry or seafood topped with basil leaves or basil infused desserts. So, get to it and dazzle them with fresh basil!
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Pine Tree Garden Seeds
Recipe: Citrusy Basil Rub
Lemon and/or lime basil leaves and tender stems, minced to make 1 cup
1 teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
6 cloves of organic garlic, peeled and pressed or minced fine
zest and peel of one organic lime
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, then store in glass jar. It can be used to rub on poultry and seafood 24 hrs. before grilling; added to cider or white wine vinegar to make vinaigrette; or add a tablespoon to sauce or yogurt for dip or topping for grilled seafood or poultry.
Keeps in the fridge for about 2 weeks or freezes for longer storage.