Basil is a herb in the mint family. It shows a flower fused out of 5 petals and showing an upper and a lower lip, typical for this family. Basil grows best as an annual plant. It has green leaves placed in pairs growing opposite each other on a slightly square stem. Basil leaves are the fragrant part of the plant that is harvested and used.
There are several varieties of basil. The most common one is called sweet basil and is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine and comes in plenty of cultivars offering large to small leaves. Thai basil (Ocimum basilicum thyrsiflora) is a variety showing a strong aniseed/licorice smell and taste.
How to grow:
To get best results, basil is best grown as an annual plant.
Sow into seed beds in mid Spring. Transplant into single pots when the plants show 4 to 6 leaves. Apply liquid fertiliser once per week until plants are 10 cm high. Plant into rich soil in a sunny position 25 cm apart. Keep well watered, fertilising is usually unnecessary.
Cutting the tops off of basil plants encourages branching at the next lower leaf level. Pinch out flower buds to keep the plant growing.
Pests and other problems and how we deal with them:
Caterpillars can affect the leaves but usually don’t do much damage. If serious damage is apparent control caterpillars with Dipel.
Warm season crop.
Basil needs to be kept on its own to produce true seeds and to avoid cross pollinating.
How to harvest and use:
Collect leaves early so they stay tender. Cut back stems but leave one set of leaves on to encourage branching.
Thai basil leaves are a quintessential ingredient of Thai curries. Both sweet and Thai basil are great mixed with other leaves to make a salad. Sweet basil is the key ingredient of pesto. Sweet basil goes very well with chicken, fish, pasta, mozzarella, nuts, parmesan, strawberry, pear, tomato and garlic. It is best used raw or added just before serving because heat alters its flavour and colour. Great recipes with basil are soupe au pistou, Caprese salad, panzanella salad, minestrone, strawberries with basil ice cream.