IS BASIL EASY TO GROW?
I said a couple of weeks ago that I would do a blog post on Basil so here it is! Now that the warmer weather has arrived, it's definitely time to get some basil into the garden!
I have to admit I'm a tomato groupie these days, but when I first got into gardening I definitely started off as a basil groupie! When I received my first Kings Seeds catalogue way back in the dark ages, I spent hours trying to decide not which basil to buy, but which ones to leave out! I've calmed down a bit since then, but basil is still one of the things I grow every year - what tomato groupie wouldn't want basil growing alongside their tomatoes - they are great companion plants and go brilliantly together on the plate as well.
The botanical name for basil is Ocimum basilicum. "Ocimum" comes from the Greek word Okimon, which means smell and "basilicum" comes from the Greek word basilikon, which means king. In antiquity, basil was considered to be a sacred plant and was cut for use in ceremonies and sacred rites. Basil is hugely popular now as a culinary herb, but has had a very contradictory reputation through the ages. Gerard has gathered together a lot of info about basil in the King Seeds catalogue, so I will quote him here:
"To the ancient Greeks and Romans, the herb was a symbol of hostility and insanity. they believed that to grow truly fragrant Basil one had to shout and swear angrily while sowing its seeds! Other folk traditions have associated the herb with love. During recent centuries, when an Italian woman placed potted Basil on her balcony, it signalled that she was ready to receive her lover. In India it is considered sacred to the gods Vishnu and Krishna, while in Haiti, shopkeepers sprinkle Basil water around their stores to ward off evil spirits and bring prosperity. In the Philippines, Basil poultices are applied to ringworm infections and pregnant women drink Basil tea to induce labour. It is also known to stimulate the immune system by increasing production of disease fighting antibodies by up to 20 percent."
There are many different varieties of basil - flavours range from lemon to cinnamon to anise or liquorice. The most commonly known basil is Sweet Genovese, with its sweet clean flavours. However, each variety of basil will bring its own unique combination of colour and flavour - wonderful purple basils, compact varieties with fine leaves and prolific huge-leafed varieties.
Basil is an easy to grow annual - it just likes to be warm and won't do well if sown too early, before the temperatures have warmed up. Basil grows best when night temperatures are above 15oC. Basil is frost tender. Basil can be sown directly but you may have more luck sowing into seedraising mix in seedtrays for planting out when the plants are bigger, because snails and slugs find it delicious and can gobble up the whole crop overnight! Your plants will be ready to plant out about 4-6 weeks after sowing. Basil will do well in pots or in garden beds - choose a position in full sun - somewhere near the kitchen is always good! Basil doesn't like to be too dry, or to have wet feet, so ensure you water regularly and also have good drainage. Pick leaves from your basil plant regularly, to make the plant branch and to encourage fresh new sweet leaves to grow.
Basil can also be grown as a microgreen (see our microgreen tutorial) - basil microgreens are tender and mild, easy to grow on a warm windowsill, and are a wonderful additions to salads.
I found a wonderful recipe - Panna cotta served with Strawberries and Microgreen Basil Oil in Erick Franks and Jasmine Richardson's book "Microgreens - A guide to Growing Nutrient-Packed Greens". Here is the recipe for making the oil - the recipe uses basil microgreens but you could also use normal basil leaves if you don't have microgreens.
Microgreen Basil Oil
- Make an ice water bath and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil, add 1 T salt and blanch 250g of basil microgreens (or basil leaves). Refresh the basil in the ice water bath.
- Spin or squeeze the basil dry and puree in a blender with 1 cup canola oil.
- Let it sit at room temperatures for 2 hours and then strain through a fine sieve. Discard the solids.
- Drizzle the basil oil over panna cotta and serve with strawberries and a sprinkling of basil microgreens. It would also make a fantastic dipping oil for fresh bread! Use it up, as home made herbal oils don't keep forever.
Fresh Basil Pesto
Approximately 2 cups loosely packed basil leaves
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup pine nuts
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled
- Roughly chop the basil, garlic, and pinenuts together, add olive oil and and parmesan cheese and mix by hand for a chunky, rustic pesto.
- If you prefer your pesto smooth, you can make it in the blender - just put all your ingredients in and blend until you get the desired consistency.
- Store in a jar in the fridge - pour a couple of tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil on top to prevent your pesto from discolouring. Stir before serving.
If you have plenty of basil and you would like to match a big batch of pesto for the freezer, leave out the parmesan cheese - you can then freeze the pesto in ice cube trays and when frozen put the cubes in bags or containers in the freezer. Whenever you would like some fresh pesto you can simply thaw a few cubes, stir in some freshly grated parmesan and you are ready to go!
I hope you enjoy choosing and growing your basil this year. If you have any recipes you would like to share with us, you could post them on our Facebook page - we'd love to hear from you!