|| 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 a warm season plant, requiring temperatures
above 50º to grow, but does best when temperatures are in the 80s
and 90s. Plant basil in full sun, in well-drained soil. Water adequately
to produce tender leaves, but be careful not to overwater. Basil needs
more fertilizer than most herbs. Incorporate compost before planting
or top dress at planting to keep the plants producing leaves all season.
Basil produces spikes of white or pink flowers.Pinch off the terminal
shoots to encourage branching and tender new growth, and slow down
flower production. When the plant stems become woody and stop producing,
cut the plants back a third and fertilize to stimulate new growth.
In midseason the plants will begin to produce spikes of small white,
pink or purple flowers. Remove these flower spikes to keep the plant
producing leaves up to frost.
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
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
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
|2 tablespoons coarsely chopped walnuts or pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cups basil leaves (about 4 ounces)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
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.