Basil the Herb - What is Special About it?

Basil is leafy herb that used in many recipes and is a herb that goes really well with tomatoes. Originally from India, today basil is grown everywhere, and well used in Italian cooking. Once it was considered to be a royal plant, and was only cut by the sovereign with a golden sickle. I can tell you I don't cut my basil with a golden sickle, but I do grow it and love having it salads with tomatoes and mozzarella!

Although there are more than 50 varieties, more people are familiar with bush, purple, and sweet basil. Of these 3, sweet basil is probably the most popular for cooking and drying, as bush basil has very small leaves, and purple basil has foliage that is pretty to look at but doesn't have much flavor.

Growing Basil

BasilGrowing basil at home is rewarding, as in the right conditions it just grows and grows.

It is an annual, and although I prefer growning basil from seed, you can also buy basil plants and transplant them into your gardens, or just grow your basil in containers indoors as a windowsill herb.

Basil is usually planted in spring after the frosts have passed. It will grow in light, well drained soil, even sandy soil, as long as it's in a warm, sunny place.

I have to confess that this year I really struggled with my basil, but then that was because the plants that I bought were not very strong. In addition, after I had planted it out, we had a cold snap, so it did struggle a bit. In the end it was a "kill or cure" method of dealing with it because I was so fed up at how sad it was looking day after day.

So after cleaning out the fireplace one day I spread some fire ashes around the plants and watered it in. Because wood ash is an excellent source of potassium for plants, which is needed for the strengthening of the cell walls, the basil soon took off and hasn't looked back! Sow it in a seedbox and transplant it later, or simply plant it straight into the garden.

If you are going to sow basil seeds directly into the soil, sow the seeds 1/4 inch deep and about 12 - 18 inches apart as basil plants spread out. As the plants grow, nip off the tips and the plant will grow into a well-formed bush.

If you sow basil seed in early spring you may be able to to get a second crop by cutting the stem of the plant by leaving 3 inch stalks before the buds have opened.

Preserving and Storing Basil

If you want basil all year around there are 2 ways of doing this. First, you can dry your own basil. Select which plants you want to dry and cut them off at the stems. Do this before the plants begin to flower and while the leaves are still a good green color.

Next gently wash the plants with a fine spray to rid of any dirt and dust. Place on some paper toweling to get rid of excess water and then lay the basil out in a shady area outside until all the water has dried off.

Now tie the basil in small bunches using twine, string or raffia and hang them upside down in a cool, dry room for 3 weeks.  

Once the leaves have dried out, pack firmly into screw-top jars and pour enough olive oil to cover all the leaves. Screw on the lid, and store in a cool place, even the fridge is fine. Use when needed.

You can also freeze basil leaves. However, preserving the leaves like this they will lose their fresh texture and will darken in color.

To store this versatile herb wrap the cut stems in a layer of damp kitchen paper and keep in the vegetable drawer of the fridge for up to 2 days.

Basil as a Medicinal Herb

Basil is regarded as a powerful tonic, both when eaten raw and when taken as an infusion. A basil infusion is generally taken if you have nausea and vomitting.

It can also be used on its own or with other herbs such as sage, peppermint or lavender flowers in a facial steam.

Cooking with Basil

Basil is a herb that features a lot in Italian cooking and an essential ingredient in pesto. With all the varieties of basil the one that everyone is more familiar with in cooking is the sweet basil.

Basil is a good marriage with tomatoes, but it is also successfully used with many other dishes. It can be added to salads, used to flavor salad dressings, cottage cheese, cooked with eggs and sprinkled over pizzas.  Just remember to add the basil as the last thing to the meal before serving.

Here's a Pesto Recipe for you: (4-6 servings)

115g (4 oz) basil leaves in a mortar with 25 g (1 oz) pine nuts, 2 peeled cloves of garlic, and a large pinch of coarse salt. Crush all to a paste with a pestle. Now add 50 g (2 oz) grated Parmesan cheese and work into the basil mixture.  Gradually add 120 ml (4 fl oz) extra virgin olive oil. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon to make a thick, creamy sauce.  This pesto will keep in a closed jar for up to 10 days in the fridge.

Basil as an Insect Repellent

Basil is regarded as a good companion plant for tomatoes, keeping pests away and the plants disease free. Basil also repels flies and mosquitoes, so grow it near your doors and outdoor areas.

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