Basil is said to have originated in India, where it was considered sacred. As it’s use spread to the Mediterranean it stood for love in Italy, and hate in Greece. In herbal medicine, basil is considered a powerful, masculine herb.
Basil is an annual, grown in warmer months. There are many varieties with the most commonly grown in kitchen gardens being Sweet Basil.
I also find the following varieties useful in a kitchen garden : Thai Basil, and Sacred (Holy) Basil, purely because I enjoy the flavour of these varieties. There is a perennial Basil available but I do not enjoy the flavour and so I don’t plant it.
To determine if you like the plant, rub a leaf between your fingers. This will release the oils in the leaves for you to sample the fragrance and determine the flavour characteristics. If you do not like the fragrance select an alternate variety that you do like the fragrance of.
I have just discovered and organic variety of Basil “lime” that I have made a note to order next time I do a seed order.
Basil is best planted in mid Spring, once the frosts have finished and before the heat of Summer sets it. It prefers a warm sunny position in a light soil.
The plant grows fast in warm weather and to a height of approximately 70 cm. Plants should be planted at least 30 cm apart.
Protect young plants with crushed egg shells, or scattered pebbles around them to provide protection from snails.
It is a good strategy to plant your basil at the same time as your tomatoes as it makes a perfect companion.
As with most herbs, it will do well planted in a pot.
Keep water up to the plant when the weather is very hot.
Fertalise within a couple of weeks of planting. Pick leaves regularly once the plant is established as this will help to promote growth.
Mulch with sugar cane or pea straw once established and the weather starts to heat up in summer.
Remove the flowers as they appear.
Pinch out the center growth at the top of the leaves to promote bushy growth.
The plant will go “woody” once finished producing for the season. This means the stems with thicken and the leaves will become more sparse and they also develop a more bitter flavour.
Basil is the perfect culinary partner to tomatoes, eggplant, lemon, capsicum, pine nuts. For most Mediterranean or Asian style dishes it works well.
When cooking with basil it should always be added at the end of the cooking to allow it’s flavour to shine and prevent a bitter taste.
Try to harvest your leaves just before using them. If you are going to store them they can be wrapped in a damp tea towel and placed in the crisper section of the fridge, or if you are using them on the same day they can be placed into a bowl of water and put into the fridge. This will keep them fresh.
I have not had any luck drying basil leaves. I tend to make pesto, or infused oil at the end of the season.The infused oil I made earlier in the year is lovely and is improving as it ages. It is a really lovely way to capture the essence of this herb long after the plant has been removed from the garden.
Dorothy Hall in The Book of Herbs, recommends layering the stems and leaves in an earthenware pot covering each layer in salt. I am yet to give this a try to say how well it works. If I have a bumper crop this summer I will give it a go. If you have ever done this I would love to hear about it in the comments below.
Here are a few recipes to get you inspired to cook with basil