Basil is one of the world’s most popular herbs, and just about everyone is familiar with its delicious aroma and the way it enhances flavour. While you’ll find hundreds if not thousands of basil recipes online, we’re hoping that this article will give you extra insights into the uses of basil plus all the tips and tricks you need to get the most out of these rewarding plants.
Types of Basil
There’s more to Basil than just one type of plant. In fact, there are tons of variations that are enjoyed around the world. Here are a few variants to keep on your radar.
- Sweet Basil (one of the most popular forms of basil out there)
- Holy Basil (revered in several cultures for its medicinal uses as well as its flavour)
- Lemon Basil (basil with a twist of citrus flavour)
- Thai Basil (a must-have for fans of Thai cuisine)
- Purple Basil or Dark Opal Basil (a hint of clove flavour and rich colour)
- Perennial Basil (flavour not as good, but longer lasting)
We could continue – there are 15 or more variations on the theme with flavour and aroma determined by the different balances of aromatic oils found in the plants.
Uses of Basil
Apart from its multitude of culinary uses, Basil is said to have a variety of health giving properties. Although you’ll probably grow it jut for its flavour, Basil is also said to:
- Aid digestion
- Have anti-inflammatory properties
- Fight free radicals (antioxidant)
- Cleanse the skin (when applied externally)
- Reduce the symptoms of depression
- Help with the management of diabetes
- Support liver health
While we don’t pretend to be doctors or even herbalists, it’s good to know that our favourite herb may benefit your health while tasting delicious!
How to Grow Basil
Basil is among the easiest herbs to grow in your garden – or even in a pot on a sunny windowsill.
The seeds aren’t terribly tiny, so they come up easily when sown directly where they are to grow. Basil also transplants well, so you can grow it in containers to plant out later – especially if you live in a frost-prone area and want to get a head start on the summer.
There are no fancy tips to sowing and germinating basil. Simply cover the seeds to the same depth as their diameter and keep them moist until germination happens – that’s pretty fast, so you get quick rewards for minimal effort.
Your plants will need sunshine or very strong filtered light. Water requirements are pretty average, and there aren’t many pests or plant diseases that affect them. In fact, I can’t remember seeing anything worse than a bit of slug damage – and that wasn’t bad enough to worry about.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Plants
Once your plants have three to four pairs of adult leaves, you can start pinching the tips to encourage bushiness. That means you’re also starting to get a harvest of fresh leaves – or you can dry them for later use.
Pinching out tips helps shoots to develop lower down on the plant, so after the first pinch, you should have at least two stems. The next pinch means at least four stems, and so on. Bushier is better!
Although basil plants aren’t terribly needy when it comes to feeding, pale green coloured to yellowish leaves indicate that liquid feeding with a compound containing nitrogen will be beneficial. I usually find that this is necessary in pots, but seldom needed in garden soil even though mine is very poor.
Sooner or later, your plants will try to flower. If you allow them to make seeds, they’ll finish their life cycle, so pinch out the buds as they appear to get more leaf growth and a prolonged life cycle. I use the flower buds in cooking just as I use the leaves. They’re a bit harder but other than that, I haven’t noticed any major differences. Alternatively, I let some of the flowers open before pinching out the flower stem. A sprinkling of those little flowers is a great addition to salads.
Too Much Basil to Use it All Fresh?
As we’ve already noted, you can dry basil easily. Simply spread the cut stems out on a clean sheet of paper in a well-ventilated spot away from direct sunlight until the leaves are crunchy. Then store them in a sealed container to prevent loss of flavour.
Basil pesto also lasts a long time. A layer of olive oil on top helps it to keep longer. Simply keep it in the fridge and it should last for several months. Another way to enjoy the flavour of fresh basil all year is to make ice cubes using pureed basil with a bit of added water. Once they’re frozen, store them in the freezer in a zip lock bag.
Basil flowers are pretty, and since they’re annuals, they won’t live forever even if you do delay things by pinching out blooms. Towards the end of the summer I let them go ahead with flowering.
Once that’s over, I simply let the stems dry out on the plant – I’m probably losing some seeds this way, but allowing seeds to develop on the mother plant is generally the best way to get viable seeds to sow next year. You’ll see that the pods lower down on the stem start opening first. That means it’s time to harvest you seeds.
Pick the dry stems with their seed pods and either press out the seeds or grind them up between your fingers and separate the seeds from the chaff. If you’re too lazy to ditch the chaff, and I sometimes am, that’s ok too.
Bottle your seeds or place them in paper envelopes until it’s time to sow again. Nothing could be easier.
Tell us What You Think
Do you have any questions about growing Basil? Are you looking for a variety you don’t see on our website? Perhaps you’d like to add something to the information we’ve given you here. Feel free! We love to hear from you!