Basil is very easy to grow from seed. So many more varieties become available to you by growing basil yourself, rather than buying a generic plant from a big box store. Basil can be tall or short, green or purple, big leafed or small and many flavor types, such as cinnamon, lemon & lime. There are also non-culinary types, like Holy Basil to try.
Basil is an annual and dislikes cold weather immensely! Do not attempt to plant basil out in your garden until the weather has warmed up and nights routinely remain above 50°F. Basil can be grown indoors during the winter; but it will need at least 6 hours of light per day so if there isn’t a south-facing window to place it by, you will need a grow light. Indoors or out, basil needs lots of sun and good drainage; constantly wet feet will kill it and total shade will cause spindly growth. Pinch off flower buds to keep the plant producing leaves (production of flowers will make the leaves bitter), but towards the end of the summer, allow some flower production; the bees love them! I usually grow so much basil that I allow many plants to go to flower early so that my bees are happy. The flowers are white or purple and start in middle to late summer. If you have a problem with Japanese beetles; plant basil near jalapeno pepper plants. Basil is reported to improve the flavor of tomatoes, so plant them nearby in the garden.
Basil is a culinary herb and used by many nationalities: Italian, Greek, Middle Eastern, Asian, African, Caribbean, etc. It also has some medicinal properties. Basil essential oil has been reported to stimulate hair growth and certain compounds in basil may help prevent certain cancers. It is also a mosquito repellent; simply rub some leaves on your exposed skin and clothing.
Culinary: Basil can be dried, but doing so doesn’t retain the good taste. Freezing is a better alternative for preservation. Tear basil leaves, rather than cutting with a knife, to prevent discoloration. Keep picked basil fresh longer by putting stems in a jar of water, like you would flowers. Add a handful of basil leaves when making beef stock.
Basil Butter: Mix 1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter, ½ cup torn fresh basil and 2T minced parsley together. Form into a log, wrap in saran wrap or store in a glass covered container. You can also add garlic for an awesome garlic bread spread.
Caprese salad: Slice tomatoes and mozzarella cheese (or cut into chunks). Drizzle with olive oil, torn basil leaves and balsamic vinegar.
Basil Pesto: Puree’ 1 ½ cups of fresh basil leaves, 2-3 cloves of garlic, ¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts and ¾ cup of grated parmesan cheese in a food processor. With the processor running, drizzle ¾ cup of olive oil into the mixture until a paste forms. Refrigerate in a container with olive oil on top as an air barrier (prevents discoloration) or freeze in ice cube trays (if freezing, omit the garlic and add after defrosting-freezing makes garlic bitter).
Lemon Basil Pesto: Puree’ 4-6 cloves of garlic, 1 cup lemon basil, 1T balsamic vinegar, 1T lemon juice, ¾ cup parmesan cheese, 1/2t black pepper, ½ cup walnuts & ¼ cup white wine. Drizzle in 1 ½ cups of olive oil until a paste forms. Basil oil: Fill a jar loosely with fresh basil leaves. Cover with olive oil. Seal the jar and store in a warm place for 2 weeks. Add 1-2 cloves of garlic, if desired.
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