Basil

Basil - Annual

A tender Summer plant here. Sow seed in the warmth of spring after the frosts. Shop brought plants can grow well as long as they are hardened off before planting out. The growing tips should be pinched out throughout the Summer to keep their shape. Either harvest completely or bring them inside before the frosts after Summer.

Basil an annual herb belonging to the mint family has been cultivated for thousands of years and has become an essential ingredient in many cooking traditions. Native to tropical parts of Asia, Africa, Central and South America, this easily grown tender leafy herb is primarily grown for its aromatic leaves which are used fresh or dried to liven up numerous culinary dishes. It is also known for its purifying and disinfecting properties. In India, basil is considered sacred and is cherished in almost every Hindu house.

The herb grows up to 2-3 feet tall with green stems that are usually woody at the base. The common basil has large, bright green, opposite leaves 2-4 inches long, and tiny purple or white flowers arranged in flattened whorls which encircle the stems, one whorl above another. Foliage colours range from pale to deep green, vivid purple and purple laced with golden yellow depending on the variety. Plants are leafy and branch freely. There are over 40 known varieties of basil of which Ocimum basilicum or sweet basil is the most commonly known and grown. In warm, tropical climates, Basil can be grown as a perennial.

Propagation, Planting and Harvesting
Basil can be easily grown and fast growing too. It grows best in moderately warm, rich and well-drained moist soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. Basil requires a sunny location which receives at least 6-8 hours of bright light per day and frequent watering in hot weather. Basil is very tender and sensitive to frost. It appreciates a good mulch covering over the roots.

Propagation of basil is through seeds.  The seeds can be sown directly into the ground where they are to be grown. Sow evenly, covering with 1/4" of soil and keep moist and free of weeds. Germination should take place within 5-7 days. Once seedlings have developed 2-3 pairs of leaves, they should be thinned or transplanted to stand 6"-12" apart. The soil must be enriched with organic matter before transplanting. Basil is also ideal for container growing in normal potting compost. Once the seedlings emerge, place the containers in a sunny, warm position. Water regularly, always from the base avoiding the leaves and the stem.

Harvesting can be by snipping or cutting the fresh young leaves as they are needed, from the top. Fresh basil are best for flavour. Handle gently to avoid blackening leaves.  If whole stems are being harvested, cut just above a pair of leaves. New growth will be encouraged at that point and should be seen within a week's time. Harvest frequently for increased production.

Basil can be used fresh or dried. Leaves can be preserved by hanging the foliage upside down in small bunches and air drying in a warm, dry, well ventilated room for a week or so. Foliage can also be dried by spreading flat on a drying rack under the same conditions. Once the basil is thoroughly dried, strip the leaves from the stems and store whole or chopped in an air tight container away from heat sources and bright light. It can also be preserved by storing in small plastic bags inside the freezer.

Problems and Care
Few Insects bother basil.

After planting, mulching will be beneficial in retaining soil moisture and minimizing weeds around the plants during the growing season. Prune the plant periodically for a bushier growth with more leaves. Pinch off the flower brackets or else the plant will become woody and less bushier.

BUSH (Annual)

Sow under glass in February and plant out in sunny position. The clove-scented leaves are used in salads, cooked cheese dishes and pizzas.

GENOVESE SWEET (Annual)
A larger plant than Bush basil. Sowing times and uses as for Bush basil.

RED RUBIN (Annual)
Excellent purple leaved form. Use to add colour and taste to salads and pasta dishes. Can also be used as a decorative border plant.

DWARF (Annual)

Very compact habit, strong flavour. Ideal for planting amongst tomatoes, etc. in grow bags or in a pot on the windowsill.

SWEET THAI (Annual)
Green leaves, violet stalks and flowers with a strong scent of aniseed and cloves.

NEOPOLITANA (Annual)
A traditional variety from Southern Italy. The large frilly leaves are deeply veined and have a distinctive flavour.