| Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a sun-loving annual with
highly aromatic leaves that has a pleasant spicy odor and taste somewhat
like anise or cloves. Both the leaves and their essential oils are used
as flavoring agents. Basils belong to the mint family, and have the square
stems, opposite leaves, flower spikes, and oil glands typical of many members
of this plant family.
Basil is easily grown from seed, or can be purchased as small potted plants. Plant seeds early in spring, sowing the seed at a half an inch deep. They can be sown directly in the ground after all danger of frost has passed, or can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before setting out (use 2-3 seeds per pot) for earlier harvests. Germination can occur in 5 to 7 days, but will take longer under cool conditions. Place plants outside12-15 inches apart.
Basil is generally easy to grow, but may be attacked by common garden pests such as spider mites (especially when hot and dry), aphids, Japanese beetles, or other insects. These can be controlled by hosing off the plants or applying insecticidal soap, or removing the beetles by hand. A few generalist fungal or bacterial diseases may occasionally affect individual plants. Root rots (or damping off of seedlings) occur primarily when the soil is too wet. Basil sown in pots in midsummer can be brought indoors to continue growing during the winter. Place the pot in a bright, sunny window for best results. Selectively remove individual leaves or pinch off tips that have one or two sets of leaves as needed for fresh use at any time.
Basil does not refrigerate well, but can be kept there for a few days. Another alternative is to place the stems in water to keep the sprigs fresh for a few days. Just before the plants begin to flower, the whole plants can be cut 6-8 inches from the ground. Basil is a very tender plant and will be damaged by frost, with the leaf tissue turning black. Either cover the plants completely or make a final harvest when the first frost is predicted.
Basil is most commonly associated with Italian and Thai cuisine. Most Italian dishes with tomatoes also use basil. Basil is the essential ingredient in pesto. The leaves, fresh or dried, may be used in many other dishes, as well. Infusions of the leaves can flavor oil or vinegar, and leaves can be steeped for teas.
Herb Society of America facts on Basil: http://www.herbsociety.org/factsheets/basil.pdf
Drop nuts and garlic through food chute with food processor on; process until minced. Add oil; pulse 3 times. Add basil, cheese, and salt; process until finely minced, scraping sides of bowl once. Spoon into a zip-top, heavy-duty plastic bag or other container; store in refrigerator.