Simply The Best Herbs-July

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A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.  ~ Saint Basil

 

One spice I have grown for many years is an essential ingredient in Italian cooking.  It has an incredible scent when you brush up against it let alone the aroma when you pick the leaves to make sauce.  Of course I am talking about basil.  And while I have used basil in sauces and soups, there is so much I do not know about basil.   I have grown some other basils besides the large green leaf Italian type such as purple and variegated basil. But I did not know that it was not just an Italian spice, or that there were different kinds of basil used all over the world with different tastes.  A few years ago, I finally learned basil is an essential spice in Thai food.

So I planned to try some new types of basil in my garden in the coming years.  For this year I am growing lemon basil along with the typical Italian type.  In this Italian household, it would be sacrilege if we didn’t grow the Italian basil.  But I look forward to tasting and experimenting with other basil.  I am linking in with Diana@Elephant’s Eye on False Bay for her meme, Dozen for Diana as I profile this wonderful herb that is so much more than culinary.

 

 

Name

Basil goes by many names, Sweet Basil, Thai Basil even Holy Basil, but they are all names  for the herb Ocimum, part of the family Lamiaceae DSCN1049(Mint).  It is also known as Saint Joseph’s Wort in some countries.

And these different names go along with the many varieties of basil.  The kind used in Italian cooking is sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum).  And then there is also Thai basil (O. basilicum var. thyrsiflora), lemon basil (O. X citriodorum) and holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum) to name a few.

The word basil comes from the Greek, basileus, meaning king.  This seems to have come from the idea that basil may have been used in royal baths. And basil is still considered the “king of herbs” by many as it is one of the most popular herbs in cooking.

 

 

About

Most basils are cultivars of sweet basil. They say there are now over 160 named cultivars available and more new ones every year.  So there are lots for me to try.

IMG_5745Basil is a half-hardy annual plant and is an annual here, although some are perennial in warm, tropical climates.  It will die when temps reach freezing in my garden.  I have read that it will come back if let go to seed which I will try in a few spots, but I fear it is too cold for it to reseed here.

Basil prefers hot, dry conditions so imagine how happy my basil has been in our unusually cool, wet spring and now hot, humid, wet summer.  And basil isn’t a perfect plant as it can have some issues:

  • If the leaves are wilting it is usually from a lack of water, but it will recover if watered thoroughly and placed in a sunny location.
  • Yellow leaves towards the bottom of the plant mean that the plant has been stressed; usually this means that it needs less water, or less or more fertilizer.  Right now, for my basil, it means it needs less water as I am finding many yellowing leaves.
  • Mulching will help provide the right soil moisture, prevent weeds and keep the leaves clean.  I should get in the habit of mulching mine.
  • Do not over fertilize plants as it will produce less flavorful basil.
  • Although basil is pest free, it suffers from wilt, gray mold and downy mildew.  I have lost whole crops to wilt some years.

 

Basil can grow up to several feet tall, depending on the cultivar.  Flower spikes are small with white, pink or purple flowers, blooming from summer to fall.  Leaves also vary in color and size depending on the cultivar.  Basil grows quickly from seed, and grows best when planted in full sun in amended soil and when both day and night temperatures are above 50°F.

IMG_2420Basil plants grow one central stem, and it is best to pinch them back  by half once they reach about 6 inches tall.  This forces the plant to branch and grow more leaves. As the plant sends out new stems, continue to pinch them back.  You want more leaves not flowers as basil starts to lose flavor once it flowers.

Along with pinching the plant, it is important to feed basil with a high nitrogen fertilizer like fish emulsion or sea weed every few weeks as this promotes foliage growth.

Basil can also be propagated  from cuttings put in water until roots develop.  And they can be grown in a basement, under fluorescent lights which I do in winter.

 

 

Folklore

Basil has been grown for more than 5,000 years, and is native to India and other tropical regions of Asia.  There are even ancient records that show sweet basil was in the Hunan region of China and migrated westward.

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Basil was also used as an embalming herb, and was found in mummies of ancient Egypt.  It was a symbol of mourning in Greece, and in Europe was placed in the hands of the dead to ensure a safe journey to the after life.

In Italy, basil symbolized love as sweethearts wore a sprig of basil in their hair to win their love. In Mexico, people in love would keep basil in their pockets. While in Romania, a man would give basil to his sweetheart to show they were officially engaged. And in Portugal, a dwarf bush basil is presented in a pot, to your sweetheart.

On the other hand, basil also represented hatred in ancient Greece, and European lore sometimes claimed that basil was a symbol of Satan.

Other European folklore included carrying a sprig of basil in your pocket to bring wealth, sprinkling basil on the floor to fend off evil and putting some near doors and cash registers to attract customers and money.

 

 

Uses 

Culinary

IMG_2424Basil is best known as a culinary herb in the cuisine of Italy, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Taiwan. Asian basil is stronger in flavor than Italian basil.  Basil is used in pesto, pasta sauce, eggs, soups, salads, salad dressings, meats, and potatoes, Thai curries, and to flavor vinegar and oils. It is also good source of vitamin A and antioxidants.

Basil is best used fresh in recipes, and is added at the last moment. The fresh herb can only be kept for a short time in the refrigerator, and longer in the freezer.  I do not use the dried herb since it has little flavor compared to fresh or frozen.

The flower buds have a more subtle flavor and they are edible.

Lemon basil has a strong lemony smell and flavor, and its flowers are wonderful in salads.  I hope to try lemon basil with fruit or in place of mint in drinks and desserts.

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Medicinal

Scientific studies have shown that basil oil has great antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, and has shown to have a potential for  treating cancer.  In a recent report it was shown to have insect-repelling properties due to the extracts from the plant being very toxic to mosquitoes.  Now if I could just cover myself in basil somehow.

In some countries and cultures, it is also been known to treat stress, asthma, diabetes, headaches, sore throats and coughs.  As a member of the mint family, it’s useful in helping with digestion. And it’s also said to bring out  hair’s natural shine.

 

Garden

Because basil is easy to grow, it is a wonderful addition to the herb or vegetable garden.  The purple and variegated basil looks wonderful interplanted with summer annuals and other herbs in pots.  Plant it in the garden wherever you have a sunny well drained spot so you can brush up against it like lavender and smell its’ wonderful scent.

 

 

Language of Flowers

The Victorian language of flowers for basil has two meanings: common basil signifies hatred and sweet basil conveys the sender’s best wishes.  I’ll go with best wishes as this herb is too delicious to think anything negative.

 

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And she forgot the stars, the moon, and sun, And she forgot the blue above the trees, And she forgot the dells where waters run, And she forgot the chilly autumn breeze; She had no knowledge when the day was done, And the new morn she saw not: but in peace Hung over her sweet Basil evermore, And moistened it with tears unto the core.

-John Keats
‘Isabella; or, The Pot of Basil’

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Check out other posts in the series, Simply the Best-Herbs:

June-Monarda

May-Thyme

April-Mint

March-Common Yarrow

February-Chives

January-Lavender

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Next up on the blog:  As July marches on, it will be time for another Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.  Lots happening in the garden this summer.

I am linking in with Michelle@Rambling Woods for her Nature Notes meme.  It is a great way to see what is happening in nature around the world every Wednesday.

I hope you will join me for my posts once a month at Beautiful Wildlife Garden. See my most current post now.

As always, I’ll be joining Tootsie Time’sFertilizer Friday.

Please remember, to comment click on the title of the post and the page will reload with the comments section.

All original content is copyrighted and the sole property of Donna Donabella @ Gardens Eye View, 2010-2013.  Any reprints or use of content or photos is by permission only.

68 comments

  1. Christina says:

    I grow several different Basils including Thai basil, I have some seeds of Holy basil growing, the first pot damped off (I think I started it too early) Here it doesn’t like full sun but bright light out of full sun. I always grow it as a companian plant with tomatoes. Where they cages for tomatoes in your images? I’ve never seen those before.

    • Donna says:

      Yes in the second to the last photo those are square cages. In the last those are ladders that can be bent as hoops. Here I can put the basil in sun but after experimenting they seem ti like the shade of the tomatoes once the really hot weather starts. I only plant them with tomatoes now.

      • Christina says:

        I use bambo to make supportd but for the kind of tomatoes that you don’t prick out all the side shoots my system isn’t perfect. I need to try to make something like this. Thank you

  2. Sheryl @ Flowery Prose says:

    My favourite herb! I’m trying out a couple of new-to-me types this year: cinnamon, and a Thai basil called ‘Siam Queen.’ Plants are still small yet, I direct seeded them about six weeks ago into a raised bed and we’ve had all this rain…. Sweet basil is a staple for me and I grow it indoors in the winter as well. Love those purple types, too – so pretty! 🙂

    So fun to learn the history and traditional uses for this fabulous plant!

    • Donna says:

      Sheryl I would love to know what you thought of the cinnamon and Thai basil. I will be branching out every year to try new herbs as well. Glad you enjoyed the post!! 🙂

  3. Dorothy says:

    Interesting informationabout one of my favorite herbs. A few days ago i needed some basil for pesto. At the new fresh foods market, I was going to buy a a package of leaves then noticed I could buy the whole potted plant for less…so now I will have fresh basil growing outside my kitchen door…I hope!

  4. Donalyn@The Creekside Cook says:

    I can’t imagine a summer without basil – I think I have 18 plants this summer – mostly the sweet Italian kind, but also Thai, purple and smaller leafed Greek type. One of favorite ways to use it is just to toss the torn leaves into a mixed green salad – so yummy!

    • Donna says:

      18 plants…wow! I have about half that but not so many varieties. I hope to be braver next year and have many different basil to try.

  5. Diana Studer says:

    Such different climates we have. My Thai basil is a woody little tree. Left to flower in profusion, and always singing with bees. Here it is too hot to battle with the tender annual varieties.

    • Christina says:

      I didn’t know that Thai Basil was woody, although I suppose it was slightly woody stemmed when I grew it last year in all that heat. Usually even Italian or better Genovese basil is quite woody by the end of the season

  6. Cathy says:

    A lovely and informative post about my favourite herb! I have also tried growing a couple of different ones in addition to the big-leafed Italian one. Lemon is nice, but a purple one I tried is a little tougher and less aromatic. I have not tried the Thai one yet. We make pesto every week until the harvest finally gives out in September and the last few leaves go in my herb liqueur! 😉

  7. Jason says:

    We grow sweet basil and Thai basil. We especially love the sweet basil with fresh tomato and mozzarella. With the Thai basil we like to make ground chicken with hot pepper and basil and other dishes.

    • Donna says:

      Our fav is sweet basil with tomatoes and mozzarella. I am looking forward to growing Thai basil. That chicken dish sounds so yummy.

  8. Leora says:

    My basil is growing slowly this year (it doesn’t help that I started it late). “fertilizer like fish emulsion” – I have some – will apply!

    Thank you for all the in-depth information, Donna.

  9. commonweeder says:

    I have a large herb garden, for use in the kitchen, but also for their history and (unused) medicinal properties. When I was young I liked to think the herb garden made me a White Witch. I really enjoyed all the info about Basil – from so many angles. What a rich post.

    • Donna says:

      So nice of you to say so…I also am so enthralled with the medicinal properties of herbs. Wouldn’t it be fun to be a White Witch.

  10. Carver says:

    I love basil. When I used to do more gardening I always grew purple basil as well as green basil. Very interesting post.

  11. PlantPostings says:

    Mmmmm…I love Basil! I can smell it just thinking about it! I used to grow it when I had a big sunny garden, and look forward to getting plenty of it from my CSA garden share. Good choice!

  12. bridget says:

    Great informative post. Love Basil…especially in a cheese sandwich or in a leaf salad. It also makes a great companion plant for Tomatoes…and of course they go together on the plate also.

  13. Beth says:

    Thanks for this informative post. I plant basil every year; this year it’s Cinnamon Basil. Smells great, but it’s really not thriving. I think it’s too hot. I like your idea of planting with tomatoes for shade.

  14. susan troccolo says:

    Your post inspired me to research several different varieties of basil–I never knew how many there were. I seem to be “stuck” in the mode of planting Genovese every year…..but I love it. Can’t get enough of it for Insalata Caprese and for pesto. Plus it is so fragrant and just seems to be happiest in the company of the Romas and other sauce tomatoes. Thanks for your post–great to learn so much!

    • Donna says:

      Susie I am glad to hear you enjoy basil as much as I do…I can’t wait for the first tomatoes so we can make a wonderful salad.

  15. Jean says:

    Yum! I’ve never had much luck growing basil, but I always buy it at the farmer’s market when it’s in season. In fact, my dinner last night was a delicious fresh tomato and basil pizza.

  16. Casa Mariposa says:

    I just made pesto the other day with basil from the garden. It was delish! I grow spicy globe basil and sweet genovese, which was what I used in the pesto. I grow mine in a big deep pot.

  17. Cathy says:

    What a fabulous, informative post! We grow lots of basil here… I love using fresh herbs in cooking and use it almost every day in one form or other.

    This year in addition to our regular sweet basil we planted balsamic vinegar basil. Honestly, it tastes the same (to me anyway) but it is a pretty purple color, the color of balsamic vinegar, and makes a really lovely contrast in a caprese salad.

    Hmmm… guess what I’m making for dinner!

  18. Lavender Cottage says:

    One can never have too much basil, and we love pesto in our house.
    I’ve found the best way to grow this herb is from seed because for some reason the transplants from the nursery don’t do well.
    Judith

  19. Pam's English Garden says:

    I always learn so much from your postings, Donna, and this one is no exception! Love your ‘language of flowers’ segment and agree with you that one cannot say anything negative about basil. P. x

    • Donna says:

      I do love learning more about the Language of Flowers. Wouldn’t it be great to have a Floral Shop that catered to the Language of Flowers.

  20. catmint says:

    basil paired with tomato is one of my favourites things to eat. I didn’t know about the link between basil as a symbol for evil or the devil – interesting that it has had such powerful and contradictory meanings over time and cultures.

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