Home > Great Big Greenhouse Blog > May 2015 > BONNIE'S GARDEN--Basil—a Royal Smell

BONNIE'S GARDEN--Basil—a Royal Smell

I’ve written about herbs in general, even about lesser used herbs.  Now I thought I’d touch on some of the most commonly grown herbs—starting with basil.

Ocinum basilicum—Basil.  Ocinum means “to smell”   Basilicum is likely from the Greek 'basilikon'' meaning Royal or 'basileus' meaning King.

Like many of our fragrant herbs, basil is a member of the lamiaceae—the mint family.  You can tell this by the “square” stems.  Basil probably originated in Asia and Africa    Ancient Egyptians and Greeks believe that it would open the gates of heaven when someone passed away; however, in the 1500’s some physicians believed that smelling basil could cause scorpions to grow in the brain!  Apparently, this rumor started when an English physician, visiting Italy, corresponded back to a friend that when a basil leaf was planted under a rock, two days later a scorpion would appear.  Any negative connotations to basil probably have to do with the resemblance of basilicum to “basilisk”—legendary serpents.

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 basil, cinnamon basil, spicy globe basil 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.  I start basil seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost date—around the first of March.  If you start them too soon, they can begin to deteriorate from insufficient sunlight—it’s hard to get them the full sun they prefer indoors.  I begin to move my basil outside on warm sunny days—but bring indoors whenever temperatures fall below 55.  If I buy the plants already started, I still bring them inside on cool nights.

Basil will usually go through August.   By 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 saving the other half of the seed packet that I started indoors and direct sowing 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.  Basil 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.  Also, when growing basil 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 basil flavor.  Dried basil loses most of the essentials oils that make fresh basil so appealing.
Posted: 5/4/2015 by Bonnie Pega | with 4 comment(s)
BTW, I like today's Farmer's Market format with the pictures!
5/13/2015 11:53:34 AM

Mary Faggart
Thai basil "Siam Queen" has a lovely large burgundy bloom that is a nice addition to cut flower arrangements, as well as adding the spicy fragrance.
5/13/2015 11:50:00 AM

Joyce, the ice cube trick works for almost any herb. Even the herbs that dry well, taste fresher when you freeze them.
5/11/2015 3:33:01 PM

Joyce Smith
Thanks for this information; especially not to overwater, get leaves wet and the ice cube trick!
5/7/2015 9:33:53 AM

 Security code