Ocimum basilicum | Basil is a fast-growing annual herb that has leafy, light green foliage with white or lavender flowers. It prefers protected sun and well-drained soils, growing well in spring and summer seasons.
How to plant?
Plant basil seeds in April, May, June or July, 6 inches apart, ¼ inch deep. Basil grows best in warm weather (80–90° F).
How to harvest?
Basil typically grows to 20–24 in. tall. Once established, trim off leaves often to use in your kitchen–this keeps the plants bushy and healthy. Be sure to pinch off any flowers to encourage more leaf growth.
Basil can be harvested and kept fresh by placing the stems in water, or it can placed in an ice cube tray in water or minced with a small amount of olive oil and frozen for later use. It is then readily available to add to warm pasta, soups and chicken dishes. When using in a recipe while cooking, add in during the last stage of cooking or just as the dish is served because basil releases its essential oil at low temperatures and heat destroys the flavor.
(Source: Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service)
Spicy globe basil is a small, globe-shaped ornamental type basil that can be used in cooking. Protect from leaf miners in fall.
Sweet basil is the most common, easy-to-grow basil and is the most popular among all good cooks. Its large, glossy green leaves are great for pesto and a must for good basil vinegars. It is used primarily in seasoning spaghetti sauces, stews, soups and many other dishes. Look for Genovese, the largest leaved of the sweet basil variety.
Mexican spice basil has a pungent flavor and is excellent for cooking and making vinegars. Its stems dry beautifully, making it suitable for dried arrangements, tussie mussies, and potpourris. It is also a great cultivar to grow just to enjoy in the garden.
Cinnamon basil is excellent in cookies and cakes, and is another variety to add to both green and dried arrangements, especially for adding aroma.
(Source: “Herbs for Harris County” by Harris County AgriLife Extension)
- Thai basil (look for Siam Queen)
- Lemon basil (great for tea and Southeast Asian entrees)
- African Blue basil (attracts honey bees)
(Source: Year Round Vegetables, Fruits and Flowers for Metro Houston by Bob Randall)
Nutrition & Recipes
As a member of the mint family, basil has been used as a medicinal plant, and its oils and extracts have antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Fragrant fresh basil offers a healthy dose of vitamin K, as well as vitamin A, manganese, and magnesium.
Basil may have found its origins in India or possibly China, spreading westward to be cultivated all over the world over the last 5,000 years. It has proven popular in many cuisines and for medicinal purposes. In ancient Egypt, basil was likely used in embalming applications, having been discovered in tombs and mummies. Basil was also used in ancient traditional medicines, like Ayurveda in India. The herb also carries various symbolic significance for different cultures.