There’s a reason basil is so popular – it’s delicious! There are many known species of basil, but Ocimum basilicum, also known as Sweet Basil is one of the most commonly grown. At Bucks Country Gardens, we have basil plants ready for you to plant and enjoy right away. And if you ask any of our staff, we will most likely say we have basil in our own gardens. It is a staple herb.
Basils are enjoyed for their rich, spicy flavor with a trace of mint, clove, and even licorice depending on the cultivar. Basil is also thought to have many health-promoting properties and is full of essential vitamins, such as K and A; minerals; and other nutrients.
Full size basil plant ready to be picked.
The botanical name of basil, Ocimum basilicum, comes from the Greek words for “smell” and “kingly”, which may allude to its fragrance and the purple (the color of royalty) flowers of many basil varieties.
Along with basil’s wonderful fragrances and flavors, basil flowers and foliage are also quite beautiful. It is a great companion for tomato plants. If you choose to allow your basil to flower, the bees will be flock to it! Basil has few pests and repels quite a few. Japanese Beetles may find it tasty, but basil is said to deter flies, thrips, mosquitos, and ants.
Bee pollinating basil flower.
Back to Basil’s Roots
Basil has been used for so long it is difficult to pinpoint its native origin; most believe it to be Africa, but it has a long history of uses worldwide. Ancient Egyptians used basil as a medicine for snakebites and scorpion stings. Pliny the Elder, a Roman naturalist, recommended basil tea as a remedy for nerves, headaches, and fainting spells. Both the early Greeks and Romans thought the plant would grow only if the gardener shouted and cursed while sowing the seeds. Tradition has it that when a man gives a sprig of basil to a woman, she will fall in love with him and never leave him. Cooking her a delicious pesto dinner with basil would probably work even better! In present-day Italy, basil is still a symbol of love. Awwwww.
You can plant basil in almost any container with drainage. If so, use a fairly large one to accommodate their fast growing roots. For example, a one-gallon pot can host 1-3 plants. We suggest using Espoma Organic or Gardener’s Gold Potting Soil to promote happy, healthy growth. Herbs love organic soil!
Basil does great in containers!
Basil is very frost and even cold sensitive. Keeping plant in temperatures above 50°F will ensure healthy growth.
- Keep weeded, as weeds compete with crops for water and nutrients.
- Unless soil is very nutrient depleted, do not fertilize basil; it tends to decrease taste.
- Keep soil evenly moist.
- Once basil has 3 to 4 sets of leaves, pinch the top to encourage branching. Clip or pinch off flower buds as they form to maintain the best basil flavor. Basil can also be grown inside in a bright, sunny window or under grow lights.Basil microgreens are quite tasty, too!
Basil is typically harvested before the plant flowers. Flavor is best when harvested in the morning. The young, top leaves taste the best and should be used fresh; the older leaves may be used for vinegar and pesto. Cut a few stems at a time, but never harvest more than 1/3 of the plant if you want it to keep producing.
Store for Later
Fresh: Do not store basil in the refrigerator, as cold temperatures will cause the leaves to turn brown. Cut basil stems will keep in a jar or vase with water on the kitchen counter for up to one week.
Dried: In a cool, well-ventilated area (below 86°F), hang stems upside down or pinch off leaves and place them loosely in a brown paper bag for 3 to 4 days or until dried.
Frozen: Purée batches of fresh basil leaves with a little olive oil. Freeze in ice cube trays. When frozen, put cubes in a plastic freezer bag.
Now’s the fun part!
Mix up something fresh from the garden! Robust summer flavors are bursting in this Tomato Basil Salad. Great for backyard get-togethers, everyone will enjoy each and every bite.
Tomato Basil Salad
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 pint red grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1 pint yellow grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 16 fresh basil leaves, shredded, plus more if needed
- Salt and pepper
In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir, lightly frying for about a minute and removing from the heat before the garlic gets too brown (it can be golden). Pour it into a mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly. Add the tomatoes, balsamic, basil and some salt and pepper to the bowl. Toss to combine, and then taste and add more basil if needed, and more salt if needed. Enjoy!
Compliment your salad with the Basil Smash Cocktail – an alluring Hulk-green beverage with a real fresh kick. Farm to glass, this cocktail suits a hot summer day. It leaves you daydreaming about plunging into an ice cool lake.
Basil Smash Cocktail
- 2 ounces gin
- 1 bunch basil leaves (if in doubt as to how much, go heavy on the basil)
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 ¼ tablespoons sugar syrup
Place basil and lemon into a cocktail shaker. Gently muddle the lemon and basil “smashing” the ingredients. Add sugar syrup and gin and top up with ice. Shake vigorously (the phrase “Hulk Smash!” comes to mind). Double strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish with basil leaves.
Herb your enthusiasm… But actually don’t! We love basil too. Get excited. Get out there and plant, grow, and reap the benefits of this common, yet versatile and unique herb. And of course, if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask our experts.
Nancy McIlvaine | Garden Supply Buyer
Heather Fesmire | Digital Marketing Assistant
Content from Botanical Interests Article, “All About Basil”