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What would spaghetti sauce be without the warm savory flavor of basil? I can’t even imagine such a thing! So here is how to grow your own.
Ocinum basilicum—Basil. Ocinum means “fragrance.” Basilicum is from the Greek basilikon—Royal. So—Royal fragrance—appropriate, don’t you think?
Like many of our fragrant herbs, basil is a member of the Lamiaceae—the mint family. You can tell this by the “square” stems. Other mint family members include oregano, sage, thyme, rosemary, lavender, lemon balm, and savory.
Today, basil is a key ingredient in Mediterranean cooking. It comes in many flavors, from the sweet and mildly anise flavor of Sweet Basil to lemon, cinnamon, spicy globe, and the much stronger licorice-note of Thai basil.
Basil is very easy to grow from seed and needs mostly warmth and sun. It will not tolerate even the lightest frost. Whether you grow them from seed or buy young plants don’t be tempted to plant them out too soon!
Basil will usually grow through mid to late summer. Then, it wants to bloom and set seed. Once it blooms, the stem stops producing any more leaves. You can delay blooming for a little while by pinching off flower buds as soon as they appear, but it will continue to produce more. I get around this by direct sowing seeds outdoors around the first of June. These are the plants that will get me all the way to frost without a problem.
Basil is not prone to many problems—most of the time we have an issue, it is cultural in nature—too much water, not enough sun, etc. It needs as much sunlight as possible and does not tolerate poor draining soil or excessive moisture. With our summer humidity, trying to avoid getting water on the foliage is wise. To prevent powdery mildew, adequate air circulation is a must. Also, when growing in containers, be sure the pot has a drainage hole and never water until the top of the soil feels dry to the touch.
Basil is easy to preserve at the end of the season. I pick whatever is left just before the first frost and pack it into an ice cube tray. I drizzle it with enough water to hold it together. When it has frozen, I put the ice cubes into a freezer bag. All winter long, whenever I want fresh basil flavor, I simply toss in a cube or two. Freezing is the best way to keep that true flavor. Dried basil loses most of the essentials oils that make fresh basil so appealing.
Fresh basil is a treat for the palate and you can enjoy it fresh all year long! It’s easy and fun to grow and your taste buds will say, “Thank You!”
We’re here to answer all your questions. Stop by the Great Big Greenhouse and get everything you need to grow basil and any other herbs of your choosing.