The herbs are all good for cooking and are handsome to look at. They’re only a snip and a taste of the vast world you can learn more about from the specialty herb of Basil that will give you the makings of a kitchen herb garden. Add to them any special favorites you might have.
Every summer the basil to produce tall, lush plants with big bright green leaves, you need to put the leaves, whole into salads, especially salads of sliced ripe garden tomatoes. You’ve to chop the leaves and put them into sauces, soups and eggplant casseroles. And I puree great handfuls of them in the food processor along with Italian parsley, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese to make pesto that glorious Italian sauce that turns a simple bowl of pasta into a delicacy. Every fall the basil I the garden give the first unmistakably dismal sign of winter’s approach.
A few maple leaves just might be turning orange because the trees are diseased or it’s been dry lately; the geese just might be flying south to escape encroaching suburbanization of the country. But there’s no mistaking the blackened mess that is my basil after the first frost. Basil, for all its summer bravado, is a tender annual, and if frost is predicted for the night you can find out there in the dark, picking basil by the armful and making emergency batches of pesto till the wee small hours.
The commonest kind of basil is called “sweet basil” and can grow as tall as six feet in warm climates. Mine approaches 3 feet. It has small white flower spikes, beloved of bees. There are other exotic basils such as anise basil and cinnamon basil, and a bush form (Ocimum basilicum “Minimum”) that is suggested for indoor culture. The only other one I’ve grown is the wonderful purple “Dark Opal” which has pink flowers; but a friend of mine suggests “Spicy Globe”. He says it makes a little round ball, like topiary and is very spicy. I’m dying to try it.
How to Grow Basil
Well, you’ve to grow basil in full sun if possible, in rich, loose, well-drained soil a little on the limy side. Sow seeds outdoors after all danger of frost has passed, thinning plants to about inches apart. When the plants are about six inches tall, pinch them to make them bushy.; if they start to bloom, pinch the flowers off to keep leaf production going, leaving a few to feed the bees, or to self-sow if you live in a warm climate. To grow an indoor crop in winter either sow seeds or root some stem cuttings from your summer garden before that first frost.
Give the plants plenty of warmth and light. Indoors or out, your basil will tell you whether its soil is rich enough if so the leaves will be rich dark green; if not, they will be pale green. Well to harvest basil, if you want to dry the leaves, cut before bloom and dry on trays or screens in a dark, well ventilated place. Freezing or packing them in oil, however preserves more flavor. Basil also makes excellent herb vinegar.