Basil (Ocimum basilicum) was once believed to possess magical powers, and was considered by ancient peoples to be an elixir of love and a charm. The Romans recognized its healing properties and used it to aid digestion and counteract poisons. Basil enjoyed such a royal history it was buried with Egyptian Kings in the pyramids.
Basil is a member of the labiate family and is a relative of peppermint. Basil plants are fast-growing, upright and branching, annuals, reaching 16 inches to 2 feet in height. The very aromatic leaves are green, deep plum or blue-green. Basil plants flower in summer, preferring plenty of sun, heat and average moisture.
USDA Plant Maturity Zones: Zones 4 to 10
Sunset Western Climate Zones: All Zones
American Horticultural Society Heat Zone: 5-10
Rich, well-drained soil with regular moisture and watering.
pH level of 5.5-6.5
Basil seeds germinate readily in the herb garden soil above 65 degrees. Germination takes from 5 to 42 days, depending upon the cultivar. Seedlings can be started indoors 6 weeks before transplanting into your herb garden.
Pinch back tips to encourage bushiness, when plants reach 5 or 6 inches in height. They need regular watering. In midsummer you can cut the plant back by half and apply fertilizer.
Primarily thrips, also aphids, whiteflies
Basil’s medicinal uses are mainly in aiding digestion. As a member of the mint family, basil is a natural source for soothing tea to aid digestion and expel gas. Herbalists also suggest it for constipation, stomach cramps or vomiting. Basil can be used to ease anxiety or headaches because of its slightly sedative action.
Its scent makes it also useful in potpourris and sachets, and the many basil varieties offer great selection. For instance, lemon basil is good for a light lemon fragrance. Basil is also used in cosmetic applications. Basil oil is used in perfumes and toilet waters, and it is added to hair rinses because it adds luster to hair.
Harvest the younger leaves in the morning soon after the dew has evaporated. Use a sharp scissors or razor-knife and cut the stems just above where a stem branches, and usually where you see a leaf emerging on each side of the stem. After trimming the center stem, the leaves will grow to form two new leafing stems causing the basil to branch. Under good growing conditions new leaves from basil plants may be harvested every few weeks throughout the growing season.
Leaving the stem/leaves intact, rinse gently in cool water and pat excess water from them with paper towels. Lay out on pare towels until completely dry. Use the basil fresh, or move to the next step of drying.
Before the basil leaves begin to wilt, remove the leaves from the stems and lay out in the food dehydrator.
Adjust the temperature of you dehydrator to no more than 105 degrees F. Your new crop of dried basil should be ready to store in approximately 24 hours. The larger more mature leaves may take a few hours more.
DO NOT bake your hard earned basil crop in a conventional oven or crisp it in a microwave oven! I've tried both several times with poor results.
Drying basil produces inconsistent results for many herb gardeners. Containing high moisture at harvest, the leaves need to be dried with moderately warm, moving air not over 105 degrees F.
In spite of what many of the Internet web sites indicate, you will find very disappointing results when drying basil using a microwave or kitchen oven! Instead of retaining the delightful color and aroma of basil, the leaves will darken, become musty smelling and dull.
Basil is best dried in a quality food dehydrator using high-volume of dry air, at a temperature of 105 degrees F. or less. It will take 24 to 48 hours at 105 degrees F. to dry completely. Store uncrushed in well-sealed container or freezer bag and place in a cool spot out out of direct sunlight. Crush immediately before use and add just before the end of cooking time.
Fresh Basil can also be stored in white vinegar, Olive Oil or a frozen in a bit of water in plastic bags or ice cube trays, thawed and used as fresh.
In the kitchen, the flavor and aroma of fresh basil makes it popular in dishes such as tomato basil soup, pesto and any tomato-based sauces. Basil recipes abound; it blends well with a variety of dishes, from meat and fish to vegetables, soups, stews and sauces.
The following is one of my favorite recipes:
Bruschetta Pomodoro (Tomato Bruschetta)
Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, except French bread and Chopped Basil. Cover and let stand for 30 min. Drain the tomato mixture. Lightly toast each slice of French bread. Top each bread slice with 1 Tbsp. of tomato mix and sprinkle with fresh chopped basil. For a treat each slice can be sprinkled with shredded Parmesan cheese!
While basil dates back to biblical times, some cultures associated it with hatred and misfortune; others regarded basil as a love token. Whatever your belief, it remains a fact that basil is one of the easiest garden herbs to grow, and basil has more varied uses than most other garden herbs. Especially useful in your kitchen, your efforts will be rewarded again and again by Basil.