If you’re thinking of starting an herb garden, no herb garden could be complete without basil. It was the first herb that I grew (because I use so much of it in my cooking) and it’s also the last that I would give up. However, it’s not only a key ingredient of many excellent (even famous!) food recipes; it can also be used as a tonic, an aid to digestion, and aromatherapy.
In this article, I will:
a) Introduce you to some of the different types of basil
b) Provide some easy-step instructions on how to grow herbs like basil from seed
c) Advise you on harvesting and storing your basil
d) Suggest some ways of using it around the home.
The Main Types of Basil
Basil, like many well-known herbs frequently found in the kitchen, has a long history. It originates in India, where it was regarded as a sacred plant. This can probably be explained by the intense, almost mystical smell it has when concentrated into an essence (when the oil from the plant is dissolved in alcohol). The four varieties of basil you are likely to come across and might like to grow are:
Broad leafed green basil (the most common) which has large green leaves and white flowers
Dark opal basil, which has crinkled leaves and pale pink flowers
Lemon basil has aromatic, scented leaves and white flowers
Sweet basil (the variety used in Italian cooking) has white flowers and a clove-like smell.
It’s not difficult to buy different varieties of basil plants. Any good garden center is likely to have a selection of different plants. However, none of these varieties of basil are difficult to grow from seed.
Growing Basil – Seeds and Materials
Basil can either be grown in pots and containers on your patio or if you intend to start a herb garden, amongst your vegetables or flowers. It’s an annual plant, so it must be grown from seed yearly. But the seed isn’t difficult to get hold of. Most seed merchants have a range of different varieties of basil seed to choose from. I grow several varieties of basil yearly, but if you want to settle on just one, choose common basil.
After you have purchased your seeds, you will also need to buy or acquire:
A small bag of soil-less growing medium to sow your seeds in
Some seed trays. I prefer the ones that are divided into small compartments and have a plastic cover
A watering can with a very fine sprinkler attachment
A quantity of small (3 or 5-inch) plastic flower pots to plant your basil seedlings in
Five Steps to Starting an Herb Garden
I said above that basil isn’t a difficult plant to grow. It isn’t providing you follow a few simple steps:
Fill your seed trays with the compost
Water the seed trays (but not too much)
Place several seeds in each cell of the seed tray
Cover your seed trays with a layer of very fine soil-less compost (Don’t bury seeds too deep)
Spray or water the trays lightly with water again, and then put the plastic covers on
If you have different varieties of basil, label the seed trays with the appropriate names.
Put some black polythene or newspaper over the trays (this will help germination)
Place the trays on your window shelf or in a warmish outhouse (make sure the temperature is above 5 degrees centigrade)
Keep the trays moist
When seeds have germinated (3 – 4 days), remove the black polythene/ newspaper covering.
Put the trays in a light place (but not direct sunlight)
Transplant the seedlings into plastic pots when they are about 2 inches tall.
Place the pots in a light ventilated area and water them regularly
Replant the basil in larger pots or your herb garden when they are 3/ 4 inches tall and in warm weather (try not to touch the leaves too much when you do this).
When starting a herb garden and growing a herb like basil, it’s important to remember that basil, like many other herbs, likes a little moisture and plenty of sunshine. Keep your basil plants under these conditions; they will thrive and produce an ongoing crop of delicious fresh basil leaves.
Watch out for plant diseases. If your basil leaves wither and turn brown or spotty, there’s not much you can do about it. Throw the affected plant away quickly so it doesn’t pass its illness on to the other plants and spoil your harvest of basil leaves.
Harvesting & Storing Your Basil
Don’t let your basil leaves get too big, and of course. Harvest the young fresh leaves as they are produced. Also, nip out the flowers when they appear to prevent the plants from growing too fast. If you do this you can enjoy your basil all through the summer months. You should be able to harvest large crops of leaves during the growing season, and because of this, you will find that you have almost more basil than you can deal with on occasion during the year. However, don’t leave the leaves on the plant to grow large and course. Harvest them and store or preserve them.
There are several ways of storing/preserving basil. A common one is to paint the leaves with olive oil and freeze them in a bag. Another is to layer the leaves in olive oil in a big jar and a little salt. With either of these methods, you can take out leaves as you need (they will store well like this for about six months).
When I have lots of basil, I make pesto sauce which I then freeze and use in my favorite recipes throughout the year. Alternatively, you can use your extra basil to prepare basil essence, which has a beautiful smell and can be used to soothe aches and pains.
There are lots of uses for basil which will enable you to enjoy the pleasures of this herb all through the winter. I recommend you conduct some research to learn more about these different uses.
This article by Adam Gilpin has been produced to encourage more people to create their herb gardens and discover the hundreds of different ways herbs can be used. Adam has just launched an ambitious and extensive program of online activities to provide help, advice, and guidance on all aspects of herb gardening.
Please visit Adam’s website to learn more about growing, harvesting, and using herbs like basil. You can also discover more herb gardening “secrets” similar to those introduced in this article on his website.
Adam has also just finished authoring a book on herb gardening published as a digital book by Oxford Digital Press. Find out more about it on the website. Read also: https://oldtoylandshows.com/category/gardening/