Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Botanical: Ocymum basilium (LINN.)
N.O. Labiatae

Sweet Basil
Ocimum basilicum
greenhouse 2008

Belonging to the Lamiaceae (formerly Labiatae) (mint) family, Basil in our region is an annual plant, with broad leaves ranging from green to purple, depending on the cultivar, with flowers range from white to lavender.

The aroma of basil, often compared to that of cloves, lemon, anise to cinnamon, and of course sweet, makes it ideal for any herbal garden especially an aromatic herbal garden.

Preferring a sunny location with at least six hours of bright light per day, Basil thrives in moist, well drained soil. It is quite sensitive to dry conditions, so it is important to watch it closely during hot weather.

Basil self-sows by producing many dark brown seeds in the many small florets.

The word Basil is derived from the Greek basileus, meaning "king," although to the ancient Greeks and Romans the herb was a symbol of malice and lunacy. They believed that to successfully grow basil, one had to yell and curse angrily while sowing the seeds. In French, semer le basilic, "sowing basil," means ranting. (source unknown)

  • Basil attracts bees and is usually considered for a garden for honey bees.
  • Basil has traditionally been given as a good-luck present to new homeowners.
Planting Seeds
For transplanting, start basil seeds indoors in small pots in mid-to-late April (bottom heat helps), moving plants outside when the temperature is warm (late May or June) or sow the seeds directly outdoors once all danger of frost is past.

It is important to keep the surface of the soil dry to avoid damping off, so water from below and use a fast-draining soil mix. Basil plants have large roots, so transplant carefully.

Planting Out
As basil is frost sensitive, set plants outside after no risk (in the last few years here in Thunder Bay that has been late June, sometimes even early July). Transplanted seedlings need to be hardened off before planting out.
Basil needs real warmth and regular fertilization. A manure rich soil, I find, grows the largest leaves. Worm and compost tea, and cold coffee in my office seems to keep my basil plants happy.

Space basil 30cm (12") apart in full-sun.

Companion Plants
Pepper, Tomato, Marigold
When planted next to tomato plants, it wards of the white fly, which plagues the tomatoes.

There are more than 50 species of Ocimum and more than 60 varieties of Ocimum basilicum. A selection of basils, from Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, is as follows:

Ocimum basilicum / Sweet Basil
Ocimum americanum (tender perennial) / Lemon Basil
O. basilicum 'Anise' / Anise Basil
O. b. 'Cinnamon' / Cinnamon Basil
O. b. 'Crispum' / Lettuce-leaf Basil
O. b. 'Green Ruffles' / Green Ruffles Basil
O. b. 'Minimum' (tender perennial) / Bush Basil
O. b. 'Nano Compatto Vero' (tender perennial)
O. b. 'Piccolo Verde Fino'
O. b. 'Purple Ruffles' / Purple Ruffle Basil
O. b. 'Purpurascens' / Dark Opal Basil
O. b. 'Thysiflor' (tender perennial - used in Thai                                                cooking)
O. gratissimum (tender perennial) / Clove Scented Basil
O. kilimandscharicum (tender perennial) / Camphor Basil
O. sanctum (tender perennial) / Holy Basil

Diseases & Pests
Diseases to watch for are Botrytis cinerea, Black spot, Damping off, Fursarium wilt.

Occasionally pests such as aphids, flea beetles, and Japanese beetles will feast upon Basil plants. Rinse off aphids with a garden hose to prevent infestations. To prevent beetles from munching, cover the crop with fabric row cover (which can also keep heat in). If slugs are a problem on new transplants, try a barriers of copper flashing, egg shells, or coffee grounds.

Fusarium wilt of basil, first identified in the early 1990s, arrived via infected seed imported from Italy. Symptoms include sudden wilting and leaf drop, accompanied by dark streaks on the stems, usually in weather above 80°F. If you notice these signs, quickly dig up the infected plant, along with all soil around the roots, and discard it. Avoid spreading the disease by moving soil around on your tools or tiller.(source unknown)

Basil is also susceptible to a few bacterial rots that show up on stems or leaf clusters, usually in cool, wet weather, often late in the season (or in our case, June). Keys to control include planting in well-drained soil, spacing plants so they dry off after rain, and removing infected plants from the patch.

Consider growing your basil in containers.

Medicinal Uses / Homeopathy:
Basil has medicinal, culinary, magical, aromatic, cosmetic and ornamental properties. It's medicinal properties include: diuretic (increases urine flow), antispasmodic, carminative (expelling gas), stomachic (stimulating the stomach), antimicrobial.

It's many medicinal uses include for bad breath, constipation, vomiting, stomach cramps, whooping cough, wounds, bites.

  • A teaspoon of dried basil leaves in 1 cup of boiled water is said to relieve cramps, vomiting, constipation and headaches caused by nerves.
  • Basil tea is considered so calming, that it is used for upset stomach, spasms and in particular whooping cough.
  • In massage oil it is a nerve tonic and helps to ease sore muscles.
  • According to some, basil oil in a diffuser will relieve mental fatigue.
  • Fresh leaves can be rubbed on the skin as an insect repellent, or chewed as a mouthwash. (It is a mint after all.)

Flower Power: Flower Remedies for Healing Body and Soul Through Herbalism, Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, and Flower Essences (Henry Holt Reference Book)According to Anne McIntyre's book Flower Power, Basil is revered for its ability to open the heart and mind, to engender love and devotion, to strengthen faith and compassion and clarity.

Culinary Basil
Basil contains calcium, fibre, iron, potassium, riboflavin and high amounts of Vitamin C.

Although identified readily with Mediterranean cuisine and Italian pesto, basil is a native of India where it is regarded as a sacred herb dedicated to the gods Vishnu and Krishna. Some species of basil will grow as perennials in the south Asian regions.

Basil is a very versatile herb with a variety of possible uses. It is excellent in tomato-based dishes, spinach, and all types of squash. It is great in soups and stews, but don’t add it until the last thirty minutes of cooking. Cooking alters the herb’s flavour and tends to make the minty side of basil come to the forefront.

It can also be used on sandwiches, dips, and pasta dishes. Basil is very important in Thai, Laotian, and Vietnamese cooking.

Speaking of Thai cooking, harvesting fresh leaves is easy for us; Rohan and I can demolish a pot of basil in one days meals. Frequent harvesting will prolong the life of the plant. Basil leaves have the best flavour just before the plant flowers, and if you plan to preserve some of your basil or make a big batch of pesto, this is the best time to harvest. (Flowering can be delayed by pinching or clipping off new flower buds.)

The later in the day you harvest basil, the longer it stays fresh. In a perforated bag kept at around 60°F, it will keep for 10 to 14 days. In contrast, refrigerated basil only lasts two or three days. You can also store stems in a vase in your kitchen, close at hand for cooking.

Tear basil rather than chop with a knife because when you chop the oil stays in the leaf and does not properly flavour your food.

Basil is best fresh, but can be preserved by drying or by freezing. To do this, tear the leaves into small pieces and freeze small batches of them in ice cube trays with a little bit of water. Once frozen, the cubes can be saved in zip-lock bags and can preserve the fresh flavour of basil for up to four months.

For a large harvest, you can cut off as much as a half the plant at once.

Of the countless species of basil the favourite in the kitchen is Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum), with its close relative Genovese Basil being preferred for making pesto. Also, the lemon basils with their citrus tang, are excellent for desserts, soups, tea, lemonade and for cooking with fish and chicken.

1 cup fresh basil leaves chopped
2 tbsp pine nuts or walnuts
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp grated romano cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
1 lb egg or plain noodles

Sauce: puree all ingredients except the oil and pasta. Add the oil slowly until the sauce is creamy. Prepare the noodles. Drain and add the sauce.

Greek Summer Salad
3 to 4 tomatoes
1 cucumber
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1-1/2 tbsp vinegar
2 cloves chopped garlic
3 tbsp fresh oregano
1 tbsp fresh basil
1 tsp salt 1/2 cup feta cheese
1 head of lettuce olives (optional)

Cut up tomatoes and cucumbers and put in a large bowl. Mix olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, oregano, basil and salt together and pour over vegetables. Refrigerate. At serving time, add lettuce, torn to bite size, and cheese crumbled into small chunks. Olives optional.

*Baked, Grilled or Barbecued Vegetables

*Add several fresh basil leaves to slices of zucchini, onions and tomatoes and bake, grill or barbecue until done.

To best maintain the flavor of dried basil, store it in the freezer. To quick-freeze basil, dry whole sprigs and pack them in plastic bags with the air pressed out. To dry basil, pinch leaves off the stem and spread them out in a shady, well-ventilated area. Check in 3 or 4 days, and if they don’t crumble easily between your fingers, finish drying in the oven; otherwise the leaves may turn brown or black in storage. Use the lowest heat possible with the door slightly open, turn leaves for even drying, and check them frequently.

Another method is to make pesto (or even basil processed with olive oil), pack it into containers or ice cube trays, and freeze it. Once cubes are frozen, you can pop them out of trays and into plastic bags for easy storage.

*Cinnamon Basil does not cook well, but contributes an interesting piquancy to stewed tomatoes.
*Thai basil, with its pronounced anise-licorice aroma and flavour is excellent with green curries and stir-fry dishes. Look for "Siam Queen".
*Opal Basil has dark, purplish leaves and is particularly good in herb vinegars and dressings.

Spinach and Basil Soup
3 tbsp. Extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves
2 bunches fresh spinach leaves, washed & with stems removed
1 cup fresh basil leaves
3 cups herb or vegetable bouillon
1 cup milk (or milk substitute)
Dash cayenne
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
¼ cup freshly grated Romano cheese

Sauté the onion in the olive oil until translucent. Lightly steam the spinach with just the water clinging to the leaves and add to a pot with the cooking liquid, sautéed onion, basil leaves and herb or vegetable bouillon. Cover and simmer over low heat for 10 minutes, and then add the milk, cheese, garlic (crushing the garlic is unnecessary as it's bound for the blender), cayenne and nutmeg.

Puree the soup in batches in a blender, then return to the pot, re-heat and add salt to taste. Serve hot.

As a member of the mint family, basil is sometimes recommended as a digestive aid. Try an after dinner cup of basil tea.

a Winnipeg nursery specializing in culinary, medicinal and sacred herbs.The greenhouse is located at 3410 St. Mary's Road, Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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