Sunday, August 19, 2012

For the Love of Basil

Ah Basil! That herb of summer! It is an important culinary herb known to send cooks into poetic rapture with its warm, spicy flavor. It, along with rosemary, are my favorite herbs, both to grow and to use in the kitchen.

I seem to keep a fresh crop coming along at all times, even in the winter. All summer long I take cuttings, root in water and start new pots. I actually grow more than I could ever possibly use, but I grow basil for the sheer pleasure of looking at it, smelling it and watching it grow.

Today I took fresh cuttings and with luck, they'll have good strong roots in about a week or 10 days and be ready to pot up. These will be the plants I'll overwinter in the sun room that will provide fresh leaves for cooking throughout the cold months. The pots in the sun room don't necessarily "thrive," just "pull through," as basil needs really warm weather to flourish.

Fresh clippings make a pretty arrangement up until the time they develop roots and are ready for potting. 

Note the strong, fat roots on the basil in the glass jar. These are more than ready for the dirt. 

Basil "starts" that were potted up several weeks ago.

These are strong and healthy plants and should do fine during winter months, so long as I don't over water them.

Can you ever grow too much basil?

I like to brush against the plants as I pass by them to enjoy the aromatic fragrance released when disturbed!

Proof that the gardening books aren't always correct.  Basil isn't supposed to thrive in full sun the entire day (not in the hot southern U.S., at least) but here's a plant in my potager garden and each year I plant at least one plant there to prove the experts wrong! You'll note, however, that the plant is going to seed, which means the leaves are a bit past their prime for the warm, pungent flavor basil is so famous for.

Below is my favorite of several books in my library about herbs. I enjoy learning about the folklore surrounding herbs and the following is a bit of that information from this book:

"A native of Africa and Asia, basil is held in reverence as a plant imbued with divine essence, and therefore the Indians chose this herb upon which to swear their oaths in court. Basil was found growing around Christ's tomb after the Resurrection, so some Greek Orthodox churches use it to prepare the holy water, and pots of basil are set below church altars." Now if the folklore is true, who knows? But it makes for interesting reading.

There are many varieties of basil, many of which I have grown both as plants from the nursery and started from seed. But my favorite far and away is the Genovese basil, the most commonly found variety and the one growing in my pictures.

The Complete Book of Herbs by Lesley Bremness

A few hints on growing and using basil (from the book):

---Basil leaves may be preserved by painting both sides with olive oil and freezing, or you can dry them. They retain their color with freezing but not with drying; the flavor is unaffected, however.

---Tear basil with fingers rather chopping to avoid discoloration.

---Place pots on window sills to deter flies (I have not tried this, so don't know if it works).

--Infuse as a tea to aid digestion.

--Put a drop of basil essential oil on a sleeve and inhale to allay mental fatigue.

Here are a few of my favorite ways to use basil in the kitchen: 

Torn and strewn over fresh sliced tomatoes with salt, pepper and a splash of olive oil. Adding fresh mozzarella cheese takes it to a new level!

Added to the top of a pizza fresh from the oven (the heat of the pizza will cause the basil to darken, but never mind, it tastes so good.)

I add it to any tomato-based sauce, i.e., spaghetti, vegetable soup, ratatouille.

I usually try to make at least one batch of pesto for the freezer during the summer growing season.

So there's my take on basil. Do you have a favorite herb?


  1. Basil is also my favorite and love it on almost anything, especially tomato dishes. I also use it on a sandwich rather than lettuce and love it, especially bacon and tomato sandwich and pimento cheese sandwich.

    These cuttings are SO healthy looking and I'm sure you will be potting them up in a week or so.

  2. I'm with you; love basil instead of lettuce on a sandwich. You need any basil starts? I have plenty!

  3. Definitely Basil is my fave too. I keep buying new plants as we eat it too fast; I will try your method of striking roots in water. I love basil instead of lettuce too, and it goes with anything involving tomatos.

    1. Yes, do give it a try. You can then have an unlimited supply!

  4. Basil - aah. Love it. Only the ones we get here, are not comparable to yours.
    I could eat tomato-mozzarella-basil every day. Goat cheese tastes good too.
    Another favorite herb ( simple ) is parsley, as such, on top of rye bread, or more processed - wholegrain cooked pasta, milk, eggs, cheese mixed and poured over the pasta, with a lot of fresh parsley thrown in, and into the oven. 175°C for about 45 minutes, depends on the amount and the oven.

    1. Definitely my favorite tastes as well, in addition to garlic. Not a big fan of goat cheese however. Your dish sounds good; similar to a Fettuccine Alfredo dish I make.

  5. My favourite is Dill,lemon & dill sauce with grilled salmon yum....your basil looks good and healthy,like it with tomotoes,cheese on rye bread.Ida

    1. Oh, that sounds so good, esp. the dill sauce. I cannot buy good rye bread where I live. It's more available in large cities with ethnic bakeries, so if I want rye I have to buy the grocery store variety, which is never as good as real bakery bread.

  6. Beautiful, lush basil. We have some in the garden but have never tried potting it up for the winter. Other garden are rosemary and sage. Also like epazote to use in Mexican dishes.


    1. You should try potting up some for winter and see what happens. I am not familiar with epazote; have heard of it and know it's for Mexican dishes.

  7. My favorite fresh herb is Tarragon. I made tons of Pesto when my kids were toddlers. Froze it in old baby food jars. These days they always order Pesto if it's on the menu.

  8. How unique that you fed it to the children. Sounds as if the taste for it developed in them at an early age. I love pesto. Also love tarragon vinegar. I have tarragon growing in the garden but I believe it's Russian Tarragon, not the much preferred French Tarragon.

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