Common Names: Basil, Thai Basil, Sweet Basil
Scientific Name: Ocimum basilcum
Family Lamiaceae – Mint family
Identification: Square Stems and Opposite Leaves, Sweet basil has leaf edges that cup slightly and form a pointed end. The leaves are glossy, long, and almond-shaped.
Basil is an annual herb that is well known for its sweetness. It grows to be a bushy plant with vibrant green leaves, blossoming with white flowers. Basil is native to Africa, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and South America. It has been used for over 2000 years in many parts of the world.
There are many varieties of Basil, including sweet basil, lemon basil, and Thai basil. Sweet basil is the familiar flavor in that well known Italian cuisine, while many others are dominant in Asian cuisine. Sweet basil is the most commonly cultivated among all of the basil subspecies.
Uses: Fresh & Dried
Basil is commonly used either fresh or dried. When cooking with dried basil, crush it with your fingers or in the palm of your hand. Crush the basil leaves carefully with coarse kitchen salt and a whole clove of garlic as an option.
In a home garden, growing Basil is fairly easy. Basil can grow to be about 1 to 2 feet in height, it is sensitive to the cold, and prefers full sun and well drained soil. When growing Basil outdoors, the temperature should be consistently warm, above 65 degrees and with nighttime temperature above 60 degrees.
Light: Full Sun – 6 hrs a day
Soil: Medium-rich, pH 4.0 -7.0
Water well, during morning hours. Try to keep cold water away from the leaves to prevent a disease called black spot disease.
When harvesting, cut the leaves from the stems, do not pull, pick or rip. Cut often for ongoing supply of fresh Basil leaves.
FRESH: Once you cut Basil, if not used immediately, place the stems in water on the windowsill. No not put them into the refrigerator – it is too cold for the leaves.
DRY: To dry basil, harvest basil leaves in the early morning. Do not wash the leaves before drying. Tie together 3-5 stems into a bunch. Hang these bunches upside down in a dark, airy, warm area for 2-4 weeks.
FREEZE: Whole basil leaves can frozen. The leaves will turn black, but the flavor will be preserved. To freeze Basil leaves wash them with water and dry them in a colander or salad spinner. Gently dry by placing the leaves between paper or cloth towels. Place the leaves in plastic bags, seal and freeze.
OLIVE OIL: The best way to preserve basil is to keep it in olive oil. This preserves the green color and keeps the flavor. Use a sterilized jar and layer whole or chopped leaves until they are one inch from the top of the jar. Cover with olive oil and cap tightly. Store in the refrigerator. Use for pasta, vegetables or salad.
Basil is used in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicinal system, for its medicinal properties. In India Basil is traditionally used in treating stress, asthma, and diabetes – in a supplementary role.
“Scientific studies in vitro have established that compounds in basil oil have potent antioxidant, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties, and potential for use in treating cancer.” Wikipedia
Books on Basil
Growing & Using Basil: Storey’s Country Wisdom Bulletin A-119 (Storey Country Wisdom Bulletin), by Ellen Ogden
EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT BASIL – AND MORE!
Basil: The Genus Ocimum (Medicinal and Aromatic Plants – Industrial Profiles), Raimo Hiltunen (Editor)
“Covering all the research areas regarding Ocimum such as botany, chemistry and pharmacology, this book will be of interest to everybody involved in medicinal and aromatic plant research or related fields.”
Basil: An Herb Lover’s Guide, by Thomas DeBaggio and Susan Belsinger
Thorough exploration of basil, demystifying the cultivation and propagation. Includes 36 recipes.