Bruce Burnett, CH
Carnadians love basil for its tantalizing, pungent scent and flavor. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, the herb was a symbol of malice and lunacy. In other cultures the herb is associated with love rituals.
Carnadians love basil for its tantalizing, pungent scent and flavor. To the ancient Greeks and Romans, the herb was a symbol of malice and lunacy. They believed that to successfully grow basil, one had to yell and curse angrily while sowing the seeds. In French, semer le basilic, "sowing basil," means ranting.
In other cultures the herb is associated with love rituals. In Eastern Europe it was assumed that a man would love the woman from whose hand he accepted a sprig of basil. In Italy, when a woman placed a pot of basil on her balcony, it meant that she would be receptive to her lover.
Basil has traditionally been given as a good-luck present to new homeowners. This is possibly why a modern custom has developed, which maintains that basil will attract customers to a place of business if a sprig of the herb is placed in the cash register.
Although identified readily with Mediterranean cuisine, basil is a native of India, where it is regarded as a sacred herb dedicated to the gods Vishnu and Krishna. Some species of basil will grow as perennials in the tropics, but it is always grown as an annual in temperate zones.
Basil is very sensitive to cold. It's best grown from seed indoors, in pots and only transplanted to the herb garden after all risk of frost is long past and the soil temperature has reached at least IOC.
Basil likes full sun in well-drained soil that contains well-rotted manure or good compost. Unlike other herbs, it can't tolerate drought. Mulching will help maintain soil moisture, but be careful not to mulch until the soil is warm. Once it is flourishing, cut every stem of the herb back to the second set of leaves and don't allow it to flower. You will be rewarded with ongoing basil all summer.
Basil is primarily a culinary herb. It has antibacterial and antiviral properties, but it is not an important herb for modern clinical herbalists. However, as a member of the mint family, basil is recommended as a digestive aid. An after-dinner cup of basil tea makes a healthy alternative to the after-dinner mint.
There are countless species of basil–the 1999 Richters' catalogue lists 32–but the enduring winner in the kitchen is Sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum). Its close relative Genovese basil is preferred for pesto. The lemon basils, with their citrus tang, including the 1998 all-American winner Sweet Dani, are excellent for desserts, soups, tea, lemonade and cooking with fish.
Cinnamon basil doesn't cook well, but contributes an interesting piquancy to stewed tomatoes. Thai basil, with its pronounced anise-licorice aroma and flavor–especially the 1997 all-American winner "Siam Queen"–is excellent with green curries and stir-fry dishes.
The best decorative basils are African blue–which can grow to shoulder height, but has a strong camphor-like aroma making it unpleasant in food–and Opal basil, with its dark, purplish leaves. The latter can be used for cooking and is particularly good in herb vinegar as the condiment takes on a splendid red hue. Grow either in your herb garden alongside calendula. The yellow-purple contrast is striking.