Does anyone not love basil? Can you imagine pesto or tomatoes without it? If I had to choose a favorite herb (which would be very difficult), I must pick basil. Not just the sweet basils but all the other wonderful varieties available today. There are over 50 to 150 different varieties or cultivars of basil. Ocimum basilicum, Ocimum americanum (formerly known as O. canum),Ocimum ×citriodorum are the cultivars but there are other species and hybrids too.
Basil is actually in the mint family. Unlike mint which is a perennial and very invasive, basil is only an annual here. In fact, it really should not be planted until the end of May or early June as it is considered tropical. Tropical meaning it needs warmth to perform at it’s best.
Basil is native to India and Persia. The name basil comes from the Greek word “King”. Many chefs around the world call it “The King of Herbs”. In Italy and Mexico basil was carried by a suitor to show love and the hope of receiving love in return forever. I, myself carry basil not for love but for dislike of mosquitoes in the summer. I stick it in my hair, pockets and rub it on my arms to ward them off. It works great. While my husband is spraying himself full of not so good sprays and still getting bitten, I am not. Sooooo I look like I should be on Funniest Home Videos, at least I know it’s healthier for me. In Rome, legend says they used it to ward off the fire-breathing dragon or attacks from the beast. I would consider the mosquito a beast, wouldn’t you?
Basils are well know for Italian cuisine but are also used in many others such as Thai and Vietnamese.
Not only is basil used for culinary purposes but it also has medicinal properties. It is full of natural antioxidants to help boost our immune systems including vitamin A & C, iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Growing basil is easy. It's choosing the type of basil that is really the most difficult. Grow basil in a sunny area, about 5-6 hours. Use a good organic soil conditioner or compost as basil likes rich organic soil. The night temperatures should consistently be in the upper 50's at night with day temperatures around 70' or warmer. I plant my basil along side my tomatoes. It has been said that tomatoes and basil love each other thus help one another grow better. I'm not sure if that is true or not but I do know a always have healthy plants that taste fabulous. The more you use or pinch the top growth the fuller and thick your plants will be. Basil does not dry well (turning a nasty brown color) unless you have a dehydrator. I freeze the leaves by laying them flat in a freezer bag or I make it into pesto. I fill ice cube trays with the pesto, once frozen I put the cubes into the bags. This makes it so easy when making pasta, just throw a cube into it.
These are my top 5 choices:
Sweet Basil Ocimum basilicum 'Genovese'
This is one of the sweetest with large leaves and grow from 24 to 36 inches tall. It have wonderful fragrance and is excellent for culinary purposes. Genovese is one the best flavored basils used by many top chefs.
Lemon Basil Ocimum xcitriodorum
A wonderful lemony flavored basil that is excellent in teas, pestos and chicken dishes. It is one of many hybrids of O. basilicum xO. americanum. It grows 18 to 24 inches tall and has light green pointed leaves. Lemon basil flowers early so it is important to prune the flowers off as often as you can. You will have better favor, production and fuller plants.
Cinnamon Basil Ocimum 'Cinnamon'
I love this basil. It has a strong taste of cinnamon combined with other basil flavors which I put in my morning cup of tea. The plant will grow to 30 inches. Besides tea it is excellent in bouquets and fruit dishes.
Anise Basil Ocimum 'Anise'
This one I also add to tea with it's sweet licorice flavor makes for an awesome cup. It grows to 30. It is also called Licorice Basil.
Lime Basil ‘Ocimum basilicum americanum', combines the flavor of basil and lime that gives you an unusual tasty basil. If you love basil, don’t pass this one up, please try it. It is a little rare and may be hard to find. Lime basil will work wonders in vinegar, with fish, salad dressings, sauces, and oils. Lime basil can be great in desserts too!
Now I know your mouth must be watering just thinking about adding this to your foods or drinks. I think I may just have to have an entire basil garden this year, how about you?