Basil is a very aromatic and flavorful herb used in cooking and medicines. Basil is native to India, Asia and Africa but can now be found growing all over the world. Basil is part of the Mint plant family; some may say it resembles peppermint in looks. There are over 60 varieties of basil; sweet basil, purple basil, cinnamon basil, Christmas basil and holy basil just to name a few. All basil’s have an oval leaf, some may be smoothed leaves and some can be ridged or ruffled. Basil is a colorful plant, colors range from green’s to red’s and purple’s. Some types are even spotted. The leaves grow close to the stem. Basil flowers are lovely and draw lots of useful insects, but can change the flavor of your basil plant if you do not pinch off the flowers. Basil can also be called St. Joseph’s Wort, Royal Herb and The King of Herbs.
Basil is packed full of nutrients and health benefits. This makes it the perfect herb to add to any savory dish. You can add an extra boost of; Iron, Folate, Vitamins K, A & C, Copper, Manganese, Calcium, Magnesium and Omega 3 Fats to your dishes by adding a healthy handful of basil to your cooking. On top of all the lovely vitamins and minerals basil adds to your food it also has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Basil shields cells from further damage and it even has cardiovascular health benefits.
This fabulous herb not only makes your food super tasty it will also prevent cholesterol from oxidizing in your blood and clogging your arteries. Basil is also a great herb for people with inflammatory issues like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel conditions, and even asthma.
Basil can be found in some antibiotics. Basil essential oils can be used to help break up the bacterial membranes so that the antibiotics can work better. Basil can be used to help with antibiotic resistant strains of illness’ like Staph. and Strep..
Growing basil is pretty easy. It can be planted in the ground or in containers. The plant size will depend on how much space you give it to grow. With these 7 steps you can grow and harvest loads of basil.
- Well drained soil-If you are using containers to grow your basil make sure it has adequate drain holes.
- Lots of sun– Basil likes warm sunny weather. Your plant will grow very fast in 80-90 degree weather. Place your basil somewhere it will get at least 6 hours of sun per day. You should also bring your basil in or cover it if the temperatures fall below 50 degrees F. Mulching around your plant can help keep the temperature of the roots just right and helps with weeds.
- Lots of water– Basil loves to be watered daily. It will wilt if you let it dry out.
- Fertilize once a month– Always use an earth friendly fertilizer. Especially if it’s inside a pot.
- Prune it– Cutting and pruning your basil results in more basil. Cut your basil if it is starting to show 6-8 leaves clustered on the top of the plant. Always cut the basil at the main stem between two leaves. This helps the plant grow in two different directions resulting in more basil and large bushy plants.
- Pinch off flowers– The flowers can change the flavor of your basil. Sometimes making it hotter or bitter in flavor. The flower will also stunt the growth of the plant because the plant will force all its energy into flowering and creating seeds for reproducing.
- Keep your plants bug free– Try to use an earth friendly bug repellant afterall, you are eating the basil.
You can use basil fresh, dried and frozen. Check out Cooking with Herbs for more information about how to use your herbs while cooking. Right now I want to talk about how to store your basil after harvesting it.
Always use cold running water to get all the dirt off you herbs. After you are finished rinsing it let it air dry. Now is when you get to decided how you want to preserve your basil. Storing basil is a lot like storing any other kind of herb used for cooking.
Fresh: If you plan to use your basil fresh you can either harvest the amount you need for each meal or store it in the refrigerator. I have found that if you wrap your washed basil/herbs in a wet paper towel or thin cloth then place it in an airtight container/ziploc it can last up to two weeks. Keep your cloth clean and damp. I also place my herbs in the refrigerator door or top shelf.
Dry: There is a few ways to dry herbs, you can hang them, use a drying rack or in your oven. Drying herbs can take many days. You want to make sure they are fully dried before placing them in a closed jar. If you place your herbs in a closed jar before they are fully dried they can mold.
After washing your basil you want to allow the water to dry off the leaves. After they dry some you can pick one of the 3 ways to dry your herbs.
Drying rack method: First you want to take the leaves off large stems; then you can move them to a dry towel or herb drying rack. Make sure your drying area is clean and dry.
Hanging: keep the leaves on the stem, wrap twine around the bundle of basil you are drying. Try to keep your thread or twine off of the leaves to prevent molding. Hang in a dry area. I use nails in a wall to hang my herbs from. I have also seen people use hooks and/or clothes pin them to the blinds. You just want to keep them out of your way.
Oven drying: This method is very time consuming, it could take 2-4 hours. You want to set your oven between 140-160 degrees, because you need to keep the air flowing you should prop your oven door open. Use an external thermometer to keep the temperature between 140 and 160. The temperature changes depending on which rack you’re using so make sure to rotate your cookie sheets of drying herbs every 30 minutes. This will prevent burning of your herbs. Check out How to Dry Herbs in Your Oven for more information on how to oven dry your herbs.
Freezing: You have a few options how to freeze your basil. You can place the dry leaves in an airtight container and place them in the freezer or you can flash freeze them. You can freeze herbs in ice cube trays too.
Quick freezing herb method is just as effective as any other method but a lot faster. Just place your basil or any herb into a ziploc or airtight container and place it flat in your freezer. Use as needed.
To flash freeze you want to lay all your basil leaves in/on a flat container, place them in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Then place them in the storage containers you have picked out.
Freezing them in an ice cube tray can be fun too. You want to place your basil leaves whole or chopped into the ice cube tray. Next fill the tray with water or even cooking oils; just like if you were making ice. Place the trays in the freezer until they are fully frozen. After they have fully frozen you can take out the basil cubes and place them in a storage container of your choice. This will free up your ice cube trays. When you want to add some frozen basil to your favorite dishes just grab a few cubes and drop them right in while cooking. Growing and cooking with basil is not only easy; it can help improve your health. Adding basil to your dishes will provide a flavorful boost of nutrition.