To experience one of natures mot delicious perfumes burry your nose in a handful of freshly picked basil leaves.
The fragrance and flavour of basil have made it one of our most popular culinary, household herbs. It also has has many health benefits especially as a cleansing tonic for the system.
There are now so many different type sof basil and what fun it is to experiement with the new varieties and new tastes in addition to the culinary stalwart sweet basil
All basils are equally easy to grow; they prefere morning sun in hot areas and full sun in coller areas. Basil does best in fertile, well composted soil that drains well.
Basil need more water than other mediteranian herbs so should be watered regulalry - the best time being in the morning.
Monthly feeding allows the herb to produce lush leaves and pinching off the growing tips of small plants encourgaes bushy growth.
Annual basil and some perennial varieties are frost and cold - senitives while the perennial pink basil and sacred basil will survive winter of planted in a sheltered, sunny part of the garden.
Basil is a good companion plant for tomotoes repudately increasingl the flavour of the fruit and promoting healthy growth. it also helps repel aphids white fly fruit fly and beetles.
Basil germinates easlily and is quick to grow from seed, but should only be sown after all danger of frost has passed.
- Prepare the bed by digging in extra compost, rake it level and remove stones and sticks
- seed can be sown in rows or scatter sown at a depth of 3mm. Lightly firm down the soil and water gently,
- keep the soil moist until germination which usually occurs with in seven days.
- thin out plants until the final ones are 30cm apart. the thinned out plants can be eaten as micro and later baby salad leaves.
Basil is generally pest free but may be attacked by spider mites aphids and beetles. Too much water and poor drainage in excessively wet weather can make it susceptible to botrytis, which menifest as black patches on the leaves and stems. Deal with insects by cutting back the plant or spraying it with insecticides. Improve drainage by adding milled bark or coarse compost to the soil.
Ideally one should pick the leaves as they are required because they don't store well in the refrigerator. Leafy stems can be put in a jug or bottle of water and kept for a few days.
To extend the harvest of leaves do not let the plants flower as this can cause the leaves to become bitter. Remove the flowering tops as they appear.
Once your second and subsequent plantings are producing enough leaves for picking allow the first batch of basil to flower so you can enjoy the flowers as well.
In the kitchen
Basil is most associated with Italian and Thai cooking and goes particularly well with tomoatoes, whether fresh or cooked up as sauces. Add the leaves at the end of cooking. The leaves can also be used in salads and to flavour herb vinegar, herb oil and herb butter.
Basil is also the main ingredient of pesto and a good way to preserve extra basil is to blend the basil, olive oil and pine or almonds nuts are required for pesto.
The mixture can then be frozen and the Parmesean cheese added later when the pesto is to be used.
Basil has antidepressant, antiseptic and soothing properties. The leaves can be made into a cough syrup with honey or an infusion can be drunk to help relieve a cold.
Rubbing fresh leaves into insect bites and stings will help relive the itching.
Water melon salad
This simple recipe is perfect for a hot summer's day. Cut watermelon into chunks then add sliced red onion, a bit of crumbed feta cheese a few fresh basil leaves. Make a simple dressing of 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon lemon juice with a pinch of salt . Pour the dressing over the slad when your are done