For the last few weeks I’ve profiled perennial herbs. No herb garden would be complete without adding this annual one. Basil is probably grown by more gardeners than any other herbs.
There are so many different types and cultivars of basil it’s mindboggling. There’s purple ruffles basil, lemon basil, cinnamon basil, lime basil, dark opal basil, Thai basil and the list goes on. They all may have different textures, colors and aromas, but all have the distinctive flavor that turn a tomato dish into a delicacy.
If this sounds good, you’re in luck. Basil is easy to grow. Well drained soil with a slightly acid pH is necessary, but that can easily be obtained through some soil amendments or a container or raised bed. Basil is a moderate nutrient user, so some fertilization will be in order.
Whether direct seeding or setting out plants, don’t be in a hurry to plant your basil outdoors. Soil temperatures should be well into the 50s and dangers of frost should have passed. Basil does not tolerate frost well, especially when young.
Basil likes warm temperatures, so don’t stress it by bringing pots outside too soon. They shouldn’t be fertilized if temperatures are cool, either. Fertilizer should only be added when plants are in active growth.
Also, this plant, like many herbs, thrives from pruning. Seed heads should never be allowed to develop unless you plan to collect seed. When flowers develop they steal some of the energy from the plant. If you’re growing basil for the table you should constantly deadhead it.
Basil can be grown indoors. Light is going to be the biggest obstacle in this environment. Basil grows best in full sun and that’s not available indoors. Therefore, the sunniest window is the place to keep this aromatic herb. Fertilization should be dialed back indoors too.
Most people prefer fresh basil, and for some dishes it’s necessary, but basil dries well. You will probably not notice much difference in most sauces. Salads, pesto and other fresh uses call for fresh basil.
When most folks think of basil culinary uses come to mind. However, basil is a popular medicinal herb too. Uses vary from treating digestive disorders to intestinal worms, to insect and snake bites.
Basil also contains significant amounts of flavonoids and anthocyanins, two major groups of antioxidants. It also contains significant amounts of Vitamin K, but instead of helping to clot blood basil can inhibit it. This is likely due to Basil’s high amounts of essential oils.
Basil essential oils are also used to help treat high blood pressure. This is something to consider when taking blood pressure medicines. It might get too low.
Don’t let any of this scare you. Always consult with your medical professional if you have concerns. However, when I refer to medicinal uses, I’m normally talking about doses that would far exceed anything one would ingest by simply consuming the plant in cooking. These essential oils are extracted and concentrated. It won’t hurt your pet if he gets into your basil patch either.
Leggy lemon basil mixed in with other herbs
.Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org)