A versatile herb that is relatively easy to grow, basil is a staple in many Italian foods, vinaigrettes, infused oils and pesto. Fresh basil is the preferred way to enjoy this herb as it loses some of its natural flavor when dried. Basil pairs nicely with tomatoes or when used in a mixture of garlic, olive oil and served with fresh bread.
Types of Basil
There are several varieties of basil. The most common is sweet basil. Others variations you may wish to try include Lettuce-Leaf, large purple sweet basil and even flavored basils such as lemon-, anise-, and cinnamon- varieties. The cinnamon basil is purple in color and has a hint of cinnamon taste. There are large basil varieties and dwarf varieties that work well planted in an edge along a vegetable bed.
How to Grow Basil
Begin with seed for the basil variety you’d like to grow. The seeds can be started inside or sow the seeds outdoors in a sunny, warm location. Basil prefers hot weather and will not survive frost, so be sure to plant after the threat of a frost has passed. Basil also works well in a container garden or indoors in a sunny windowsill.
Basil grows best in a well-drained area of the garden and varieties such as Sweet Basil succeeds best in a light, rich soil, in which the plants should grow at a distance of 6 or 8 inches apart, and should be well watered until they become established. The basil plants should start to sprout in approximately in one to two weeks. If seeds were started indoors, start a month prior to the last frost in your area. Then when transplanting outdoors, plant seedlings into the garden and space a foot apart.
Plants should be kept fairly moist during the growing season and may require special feeding of nitrogen to help keep the leaves green. Fertilizer may help encourage growth as well.
Leaves can be harvested, typically eighty days from initial sowing of the seeds. To remove the leaves, simply pick or cut them from the plant. Remove the flower heads frequently to encourage continuous leaf production and to prevent the herb from going to seed. Container plants can be brought inside before the risk of frost to help extend the growing season.
Basil can also be cut down to within a few inches of the ground, and tied up into small bunches and dried to enjoy during the winter months.
Basil is a wonderful herb with aromatic leaves that are ideal for using fresh in soups, salads, sauces or simply served over fresh tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and salt and pepper. Or experiment with making your own basil vinegar or oil. Regardless, once you experience the authentic flavor of fresh basil grown fresh in your garden, this herb will become a favorite in your garden.
Creasy, Rosalind, The Edible Garden Herbs & Flowers, Singapore, 1999, Periplus Editions