Basil must be everyone’s favorite herb. It is definitely a heat lover, perfect for our steamy hot summers in North Florida. A native of India, Southeastern Asia and tropical Africa, basil is a member of the mint family. A succession of plantings starting in spring and continuing till fall will ensure fresh basil all season. Plant this sun loving annual in a well-drained, organically enriched soil. Pinch off the flower buds to prevent it from going to seed, and harvest the leaves often to maintain a bushy form. Keep it mulched, water often (depending on the summer rains) and fertilize monthly with fish emulsion or a slow release organic fertilizer.
The many types of basil include:
- Sweet Basil is the most widely used and can become a small bush, three feet by two feet. Genovese basil is also considered sweet basil with a more robust flavor. These are the traditional types used in making pesto, a thick sauce consisting of basil, garlic, nuts, olive oil and parmesan cheese. Pesto is very easy to make in a food processor.
- Spicy Globe basil is a petite variety maintaining a rounded global form, great for containers. Easy to cut and use fresh in salads.
- Lemon basil, with its delectable lemon flavor, is a favorite for use on fish and seafood. This one wants to bolt quickly so be vigilant about pinching off the blooms.
- Thai basil is essential in any Thai recipe and makes a good substitute for cilantro in tabouli salads.
- Cinnamon basil has a unique spicy cinnamon aroma. It is used in baking and Middle Eastern style cooking.
The purple basils are beautiful in the garden especially when paired with plants of silver and grey shades. They include Opal, Purple Ruffles, Red Rubin and African Blue which may be a perennial here in Tallahassee for some gardeners. It attracts many pollinating insects and is a gorgeous plant in the garden. This one you can let bloom, and it will be hardy up till frost. It makes a great cut flower, too.
When harvesting basil I like to do it early in the day. Spray it with the hose first to wash it, let it sun dry and then cut. It can be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to a week. If at the end of the season you have too much to use fresh, simply make pesto and freeze.
The splendid fragrance of freshly cut basil in a vase on the kitchen table delights the senses and inspires me to keep on planting!