Basil – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

Basil – Gardening Tips from the Culinary View

as recommended by Michael Vidrine

Summer is when we get some of our favorite fruiting vegetables – especially tomatoes.  Naturally there is an herb that is the perfect accompaniment ready at the same time – basil

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a tender plant native to the tropics in Asia, India, and parts of Africa.  It is now widely cultivated throughout both tropical and temperate regions.  The name basil originates from Greek and Latin denoting something royal or kingly.  Basil is a member of the large mint family and like mints, there are a lot of varieties of basil.

Basil can be grown from seed or from cuttings set out after the ground has warmed. The plant will be killed by a freeze and is most often grown as an annual in our area.  Depending on variety and soil fertility, basil will grow 1 to 4 feet tall. The plants prefer well drained soil in full sun.  Like many of our summer vegetables, basil likes the heat but wants regular watering.  Basil can also be potted up and grown indoors in a bright sunny location. Basil begins flowering once the plant is mature and the blooms are magnets for a host of pollinators.  Unfortunately, leaf production drops off once a stem flowers so to maximize leaf production, flowers must be pinched off as soon as they begin developing.  If you grow enough basil to let some flower and go to seed, you will often get volunteer seedlings and not have to replant.  If different varieties have been grown together, seedlings may be hybrids and somewhat different than the parents.  If you like them, feel free to give these new cultivars any name you please.  Basil plants can suffer from various fungal issues, but we’ve not needed to treat for any of these problems.  Irrigating the soil without wetting the leaves of the plant greatly reduces the chances for diseases to develop.  A sunny location, well-drained soil and good air circulation generally produces strong healthy plants.  Once the plants experience a hard freeze they will die.  Pull up the spent plants and collect or spread the remaining seeds about.

Broadly speaking there are four categories of basil – sweet basil, dwarf basil, purple basil, and specially scented basils.  Many varieties are grown for their culinary uses, but others are grown as ornamentals and to add fragrance and color to the garden.  Almost and variety would look great tucked into the landscape.  Sweet basil is the type most often used for Italian cooking while Thai basil is most often found in Asian dishes.  There are also varieties that have citrus, cinnamon and other flavors that are wonderful in dishes calling for a particular essence.  For the first time basil grower, I would recommend starting with a sweet basil variety like Genovese and then expanding as your palette leads you.

Basil is best used fresh but can be kept for a couple of days in the refrigerator or blanched and frozen for longer storage.  In cooked dishes, basil should be added towards the end as the flavor dissipates with long cooking.  Classic recipes using basil include pesto, Caprese Salad, chermoula sauce, Thai chicken and just about any kind of tomato sauce. Basil is wonderful with a host of summer fruits and vegetables.  Fresh eggplant, sweet peppers and summer squash are obvious pairings with the basil growing right next to them.  All kinds of melons make a very refreshing dish with the addition of fresh basil.  Wrap a basil leaf around a bit of fig right off the tree for a fantastic taste treat.

Put a bit of this royal herb in your garden and enjoy a classic taste of summer.

Michael Vidrine Brazos Valley Gardener, Orchardist, Apiarist and Instructor
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