Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a lovely herb, the smell of basil is unmistakable. It is native to Indiana and tropical Asia. It is over 5000 years of use and is used throughout the world in many different types of food. Here’s some information on basil.
Basil comes in many varieties, sweet basil, Italian basil, lemon basil, and Thai basil are the most popular to cook with. Fresh basil leaves are a beautiful addition to enhance the aroma and flavors of food. (as are most culinary herbs.)
Sweet basil is by far the most common variety, but there are actually more than 60 different cultivars of basil grown worldwide. For simplicity’s sake, let’s break them down into five distinct groups. There is culinary basil (which includes sweet basil), the darker basil used for vinegars, fine-leaf basil, lettuce-leaf basil (a big leaf that can be used to wrap things), and scented basils.
If you want a wide selection of tastes, textures and smells, planting from seed is the only way to grow.
- Start with a plentiful, 20-row tray, which you can find in well-stocked garden centers or catalogs
- Fill the tray with a nice, lightweight, potting mix. Gently tamp a shallow ridge down each row.
- Lightly sprinkle the seeds with the same potting soil to cover. Basil seeds are tiny and shouldn’t be planted much deeper than 1/8-inch. Repeat the process until you’ve planted a row or two of several different kinds of basil.
- Once the seeds have been planted, it’s time to water. Because the seeds are so tiny, water gently from the bottom, giving them just enough to moisten the soil. You want to make sure that they don’t get over-watered and that they get plenty of light, the secret to healthy basil is to let the soil dry out completely between watering.
- When the seedlings are established, fill transplant pots with a loose, light, potting soil. Use an organic mix containing peat and perlite with no additional fertilizers. Too much nitrogen can sap basil’s essential oils and affect the flavor of the leaves. To ensure a healthy crop, transplant only one to each container because that way it will grow faster and it doesn’t have to compete with its neighbors.
- Once the danger of frost has passed, into the ground the basil goes. The soil must be warm and the temperature must be above 50 degrees F even at night for basil to survive. Originally from India, basil loves to bask in the sunshine, preferably next to a few basil counterparts, and it is a great companion plant for several veggies. If it goes well in the kitchen, it probably goes well in the garden, Basil and tomatoes, basil and eggplant, those are wonderful combinations.
The best part about basil is the more you harvest, the more productive the plant. Pruning also helps inhibit the growth of seed heads. All annuals go to seed and once these do, all the essential oils start going to the seeds instead of the leaves, so it only makes sense to trim them off. By pruning between two leaf nodes it redirects energy back into new leaf growth, which means more basil.
When basil is planted near the path, and you brush past it, it gives the aroma and the bouquet of a lovely, sweet, clove-scented plant. In borders, in containers, herb or vegetable gardens, basil can spice things up in almost any setting.