Herb of the Month – Basil – Ocimum sp.

Basil – Ocimum sp.

Basil, Ocimum basilicum, is an annual herb originally from India. Delicious with any cuisine it is usually affiliated with Italian cooking. There are dozens of different basil varieties, from citrus-scented varieties to exotic flavors. They all grow easily in full sun with adequate water and won’t tolerate cold temperatures. The leaves are used in cooking, flower buds are also edible.

Basil, depending on the variety, can grow from 6” to 2 feet or more. They need 5-6 hours of sun to be happy and grow easily from seed. Plant seeds every 3-4 weeks for a constant supply. They work well in container gardens. Basil prefers rich, moist soil.

Try to keep basil from blooming and getting lanky, pinch off flower buds, and harvest on a regular basis. Flowering will compromise flavor and hasten the demise of the plant. Always pinch right above a set of leaves.

You can multiply your basil by taking cuttings and rooting it in water, babying the plant a bit when you transplant it into soil. Aphids like basil. Remove the majority of them by pinching off the top parts where they like to hang out and hose off the rest of the plant.

Basil grows well with tomatoes, and some of the bush and shorter varieties are hardier than sweet or Genovese basil, which is known for the best taste.
Basil is one of the chef’s essential herbs. Use it at the end of food preparation to preserve its taste and color. It can be used in salads, sandwiches, in Italian, Asian, and Mexican cuisine. Try it with fruits, beverages, and just snipped over sliced garden tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil.

Basil does not dry well so preserve it by processing it into a paste with olive oil in a food processor. You can then measure out spoonfuls on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper, freeze, remove, and store in a freezer container. You can also freeze in ice cube trays. Add garlic, Parmesan cheese, and some walnuts or pine nuts, and you’ll have ready-made pesto.

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