King of herbs!
Basil (Ocimum Basilicum) was deemed “king of herbs” in ancient times. Basilius is the Greek word for king. It was likely brought to Greece from India where it was, and still is revered and used in Hindu religious ceremonies. The French call it “herbe royal”. American Indians used basil for decades before the colonists arrived with their reserve. By the late 1700s basil appeared in advertisements in American newspapers, and was an important ingredient in many of their recipes. It “ rules” today in culinary delights throughout the world.
There are over sixty varieties offering choices in taste, size, color and growth pattern. We will concentrate on “sweet basil”, the most common. It is a bushy plant growing to about two feet tall. The leaves are green and oval shaped with spikes of white flowers. Other varieties that I favor are Genovese, lemon, cinnamon, purple ruffles and lettuce leaf. The leaves and fresh flowers of O.basilicum are fragrant and their sharp taste is a combination of cloves, mint, anise, licorice, pepper and thyme. Each variety provides a different flavor, but all are distinctively basil. I have found that when participants in my classes taste herbs they perceive flavors differently. Let your taste buds be your guide when purchasing basil or any “edible” herb plant.
Lemon basil adds a zesty citrus flavor to fish, poultry, sauces, tea, and sugar cookies. Cinnamon will liven up your poultry, ham, and fruit salads. Both are tasty in desserts that are enhanced by these two flavors. Purple Ruffles, and other red varieties make delectable and colorful vinegars and oils. Lettuce leaf (B. crispum) has large leaves that are perfect on sandwiches.
Basil does well in moist, rich soil that remains around fifty degrees all year. It germinates, however, at a much warmer ground and air temperature. Tehachapi’s cold nights and soil make this annual herb a slow starter, and short season tenant. Fresh flowers should be removed to promote leaf growth and are a tasty and aromatic addition in salads. Potted plants can be kept indoors during the cool evenings and set outside for six hours of sun each day. Lemon and cinnamon are particularly nice indoors because of their fragrance. I grow my basil in this manner all year. I have modified a method that I observed on basil farms in Italy where they sow seeds and harvest the whole plant, including the roots when it is about 5 inches tall. In Italia they are sold in markets to be consumed or re-planted. We simply cut them as pictured (photo) and enjoy the “whole thing”. Delicioso!!
Basil’s rich, spicy flavor makes it one of the most popular cooking herbs. It is a vital ingredient in Italian, Mexican, and Asian cooking. It pairs tastefully with tomato dishes, soups, stews, cheeses, salads, ground meat, salad dressings, and vegetables. It blends well with garlic, grated cheese and olive oil. Add nuts and you have the ingredients for the ever popular pesto sauce.
Fresh basil leaves can be frozen in plastic bags or chopped\blended with a little water and put in ice cube trays. It will keep for a few days when washed, loosely wrapped in a paper towels, and stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. It can also be stored in the refrigerator, bouquet style in a container with water at the bottom. Leaves can also be immersed in oil OR vinegar for specific, short term use. I don’t use dried basil, because it lacks flavor and color.
Due to its antispasmodic properties, a tea made from the leaves is used to treat nausea, flatulence and upset stomachs. The therapeutic action is due to methyl chavicol one of the essential oils contained in the plant. Fresh basil contains beneficial carotenoids, as well as folic acid.
It is fitting that this “kingly herb” should rule in a section of every herb garden. It is a lovely, aromatic addition to flower beds and the general landscape. Grow several varieties and see what it is like to have “royalty” in your own backyard!
I plan to grow “ pesto perpetuo basil” next season because my research indicates it is deer and rabbit proof and does not flower. No” pinching off” flowers required. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any experience purchasing and growing this plant. Enjoy an herbally delightful month!