Sweet Basil

March 20, 2006

Basil is an interesting and easy to grow herb that will make itself at home in containers just as well as in the herb bed or vegetable garden. Basil is popular with gourmet cooks and finds many uses in the kitchen.

Planting and Growing Basil in the Home Garden

Basil seeds are very small and require a little extra care during planting. There’s not much advantage to starting basil indoors so wait until after all danger of frost has passed and plant the seeds directly into the garden.

Sow basil seeds along a shallow row or scatter on top of your raised bed. Cover the seeds with a light layer of sifted compost or topsoil and keep the soil moist until the basil has germinated.

Basil will germinate quickly and once growing, it can be easily transplanted to thin the plants out. This herb requires very little care and is seldom bothered by insect pests. The only maintenance is an occasional pruning to encourage bushy growth and to remove any flower buds that are produced.

Popular and Attractive Basil Varieties

I can’t think of another herb plant that offers as many variations as basil. Here is just a sampling of the basils available for the home gardener: Globe Basil, Mammoth, Lemondrop, Siam Queen, Mrs. Burn’s Lemon Basil, Purple Dark Opal, Thai Basil, Sweet Genovese, Cinnamon, Lime Basil, Red Rubin, Lettuce Leaved, Clove, and Sacred Basil.

Sweet Genovese and Mammoth Basil are both popular choices for the gourmet chef and general kitchen uses, while Thai Basil is commonly used in Vietnamese cooking. The red and purple varieties such as Dark Opal add an ornamental flair to the herb or vegetable garden, and Globe Basil is a compact variety that is great for containers.

Preserving and Cooking with Fresh Basil

Pesto heads the list of popular culinary uses for fresh basil. It can also be used to flavor beans, rice, pasta, omelets, soups, and stews. Basil makes a good addition to salads, pairs well with tomatoes, and can be cooked along with a variety of fresh vegetables.

For the best results basil should be harvested just before you’re ready to use the herb in your favorite recipes. For winter uses the leaves can be dried and stored. Another method to preserve fresh basil is to freeze it. Simply chop the leaves, add to ice cube trays, top with water and freeze. The cubes will then be ready whenever you need to add the flavor of fresh basil to your cooking.

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  • Freezing your basil in ice cubes is an interesting idea. I’m assuming you bag up your cubes for later use. Although, those basil cubes might add something different to a bloody mary for instance 🙂

  • I’ve frozen pesto in ice cube trays but never tried doing it with just chopped basil leaves. Good tip. I think I’ll try that this season but I may blanch it first.

  • I, too, freeze “pesto” in ice cube trays, though my recipe isn’t classic: tons of basil, some fresh parsley, lots of garlic, just a little olive oil (as opposed to recipes that call for 2 cups of basil and 1 cup of olive oil), and usually a few paste tomatoes to add more liquid. Then I pop them out and store them in a zipper freezer bag. Advantages? Take some processed garden tomatoes from the pantry or freezer, a few snips of oregano from the greenhouse, and a couple of pesto cubes, and I have instant pizza sauce in the dead of winter. Disadvantage? You have to be careful or everything in your freezer will taste like pesto. Fortunately I have more than one freezer! : )

  • Cris

    Great tips and very nice site. Thankyousss.
    Ques: what’s the best place to grow basil? Full sunlight or shady places with very dim light. What about indoors?
    As you could probably tell I’m very new at this wonder of growing things.

  • Kenny Point

    Basil will grow best outdoors in full sunlight. You may be able to grow basil indoors but you will need plenty of bright light for any type of success.

  • I have quite a few plants of the variety ‘Summerlong’ and now I’m reading not so hot reviews of it. That’s what I get for being lured in by promises of “more.” I suppose I can try to find some different plants or make due with my Thai variety.

    I love your version of the ice cube tip.

  • Kenny Point

    I had never heard of a basil called Summerlong. Genovese is my all time favorite basil and I like the Thai varieties also. Also, it’s not too late to plant more basil for this season.

  • I think maybe the ‘Summerlong’ is a new hybrid, but I’m not sure. Can I still plant some ‘Genovese’ from seed?

  • Kenny Point

    Sure, there’s still plenty of time to plant basil seed and harvest the crop before the first killing frost strikes in the fall.

  • Chopping, using ice cube trays and adding water is not necessary.

    Just place clean leaves in a plastic, ziptop bag and store in freezer.

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