Friday, June 8, 2012
Basil is a native of Africa and other tropical areas of Asia where it has been cultivated for over 5,000 years. It is a culinary herb that sends cooks into poetic rapture. It is probably the favorite of the “sweet” herbs and well known from its use in Mediterranean cuisine. It has a spicy bite when eaten fresh.
Basil is easy to grow. It loves warmth and melts when temps get even close to freezing. The only watch out is too much water. Water in midday and not in evenings, only when showing wilt. You’ll get the best flavor when you are stingy with water.
They don’t require much in the way of fertilizer. Just fertilize at planting and about midsummer with one that contains nitrogen. A good organic choice is blood meal.
Nitrogen encourages green growth which is what you are after when it comes to basil.
Basil grows well in pots indoors or out.
It smells amazing when you brush up against it. You can place next to a garden path to enjoy its fragrance every time you pass by.
When flowers appear, pinch them off. This will encourage bushy growth. The flowers are edible and great adds to sauces or as a zing to salads. Harvest any time you need. Be sure to add to the dish at the very end of cooking to keep the strongest flavor.
About half way through summer cut back to the bottom 4 leaves. I make pesto with the harvest and freeze it to use year round. Makes a quick, easy and delicious meal!
You can also blanch and freeze. If you don’t blanch, the frozen herb does not keep its color or flavor. Blanching is simply throwing the herb leaves in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds and then quickly plunge them into a bowl or sink of ice water. Dry the leaves then I then put the leaves on a cookie sheet, place in the freezer and when frozen, remove and put in quart freezer bags. Now you can have fresh basil anytime you need it!
Sweet basil is used in Mediterranean cooking. Popular types are Genovese (probably the most famous for Italian cooking), and Mammoth. Purple Ruffles is more decorative than culinary, but adds fun color as an infusion to vinegar. Thai, lemon and holy basil are used in Asian cooking.
Basil contains a chemical that might help inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis called BCP, (E)-beta-caryphliene.