from the garden of Beth DiGioia, Resident Gardener
I make it a point to ask people what their favorite herb is and often the response is “basil”.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is known as the “King of Herbs” and has been a favorite herb since ancient times. In Rome, basil represented love: a pot of basil on a balcony was a sign that a lady was ready to receive her suitor. When Catherine de Medici married King Henry II in 1533, the Italian chefs she brought with her introduced basil to French cuisine and the French dubbed it “Herbe Royale”.
Easy to grow in North Texas, the over 150 varieties of basil offer a great diversity in taste, appearance and growth habit. My favorites are ‘Genovese’ and ‘Sweet Italian’ which have a well-rounded basil flavor. ‘Lettuce Leaf’ is fun because it has such large leaves that it can be stuffed with fillings like a taco. ‘Lime’ has a zesty flavor that is welcome in salads or ethnic cuisines. ‘African Blue’ isn’t a culinary basil, but the flowers are so beautiful that I like to grow it in the vegetable garden to attract the pollinators.
(African Blue Basil photo source)
Basil loves warm soil and for this reason it’s best to wait to set out transplants until mid-May. If you planted basil earlier this summer, your plant is producing lot of leaves and growing quite tall. It’s about this time of year that I’m asked repeatedly for ideas on how to preserve basil because it loses much of its flavor when dried.
Perhaps the easiest way to preserve basil is to pulse the leaves with a small amount of olive oil or water and place the mixture in ice cube trays. When frozen, pop out the cubes and store them in a freezer bag until needed.
(Basil Ice Cube photo source)
Another favorite is to make compound butter…
And Basil Drop Biscuits…
You didn’t plant basil this year? Well it’s not too late. Transplants are available in the garden centers and if planted now you will be enjoying fresh basil until the frost arrives.
Choose plants that are richly colored with vigorous foliage and good branching. Don’t purchase plants that are flowering, as this is an indication that the plant is nearing the end of its life cycle.
Site plants where they will receive at least six hours of sun and water well for the first week. Basil is a heavy feeder and appreciates a handful of compost at planting time and a dose of fertilizer every month. After the plant has settled in for a week, begin snipping out the top leaves to produce a bushy plant. With the exception of ‘African Blue’ if the plant sets flowers, remove them immediately.
Snip from the plant often and add fresh basil to salads, teas or anywhere the sweet, green taste of basil is desired.
For all its summer bravado, basil is a tender perennial and will succumb to the cold. When fall arrives, keep your eye on the weather forecast and when temperatures are expected to reach below 40 degrees, pull the plant and place it in a bucket of water. This will give you a few days to preserve the leaves so that you can enjoy a taste of summer anytime.