Herb Profiles: Basil

Fresh Basil

Fresh Basil

BASIL:

INTRODUCTION: Basil is one of the great culinary herbs.  Many Italian recipes contain basil.  It has been grown for many thousands of years all over the tropical zones.

HISTORICAL FACTS: .  Basil was first mentioned in English writing in the mid-seventeenth century and in American literature about 100 years later.  Basil is considered sacred in the Hindu cultures, believed by many to be a favorite of their gods. In some cultures basil is a sign of love and devotion between young couples.

HORTICULTURAL FACTS: Basil is an annual herb that grows to 24” in height with light green silky and tender leaves that appear to be creased.  Originally found in tropical Africa.  Later the herb found its way from India to Europe via the overland trade routes

GROWING GUIDELINES:  Basil cannot be planted outdoors until all damage of frost has past. Sow seeds in a light rich soil.  Loves sun but does not tolerate cold wind.  Thin your plants to 12” apart when they have developed two sets of true leaves.  Sow plants every few weeks to obtain fresh young leaves for peak flavor.

FLOWERING FACTS: They put out small white flowers that grew in spikes atop each stalk when the plants reach 12-18 inches. Pinch flower spikes off to prevent the leaves from losing it flavor.

BASIL CULINARY FACTS:

Basil is a powerful herb with a fragrant aroma and adaptable taste.  Its pleasant taste will allow you to add it to many recipes as a pleasant accent. The herb is generally is not found in recipes originating in Northern European countries and Northern France.  This herb is a key ingredient for tomato sauces and pesto recipes. A favorite use of pesto in French cooking is in soups.  Italians favor pesto mixed with olive oil and used as a sauce for spaghetti. For a video showing you how to make fresh pesto CLICK HERE. Fresh pesto is always better than the store bought version.  Basil and tomatoes are a natural combination.  Use this combination with Pizza.  Another great recipe is to cut a crusty roll in half and add salt, olive oil, a few leaves of basil and slices of fresh tomatoes.  Dress a tomato and mozzarella salad with shredded basil, salt and olive oil.  Basil goes well with sweet peppers, fish dishes, meat dishes, wine-garlic sauces, chicken, in butter as a steak condiment, eggs, and shellfish.  Fresh leaves are a great accouterment to any salad, cheese or stuffing recipe.

HARVESTING TIPS: A good rule of thumb is to grow plants often in well-prepared soil and harvest leaves when young.  Don’t fertilize the soil as this leads to more bushy plant at the expense of flavor. The leaves can be frozen in polyethylene bags after it has been blanched momentarily in boiling water.  For long-term storage the Italian method works best.  Pack dry basil leaves in layers in glass jars.  Place a pinch of salt between each layer. When full, pour oil to the top and seal tightly.  This should keep indefinitely in your refrigerator or a cool cupboard.

FLAVOR: Fresh basil’s flavor has a clove accent while dried basil has a curry-like flavor

HOME GARDEN: indoors/outdoors

BASIL MEDICINAL FACTS:

Ancient herbalists believed placing basil leaves on the bites or stings of insects would draw out the poison. Today’s herbalists recommend its use as a digestive and anti-gas aid.  Some herbalists recommend it for easing anxiety and headaches because of the basil tea’s sedative properties.  Use it for stomach cramps.  It has been proven to ease constipation.

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