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King of the herbs

It’s edible, a member of the mint family, and ornamental. Grown for over 5000 years, it flavors food around the world… Have you guessed yet?

Of course, it’s BASIL!

A flavorful ingredient of foods from Italy to India, Thailand and America, basil kicks up any recipe an extra notch. Add just before serving for the most intense flavor. However, the kitchen isn’t the only place it reigns as king… Give it a throne in your garden, too!

Like other mints, basil is easy to grow. Choose young bushy compact plants. Plant in full or partial sun, in well-draining soil and provide adequate moisture. As an annual, it’s also easy to grow from seed, just follow the package instructions.

The most difficult decision about basil is deciding which basil you want to grow and eat. The basil family, Basilicum, has a natural variety of colors, growth shapes, and fragrances. Plant breeders complicated the decision by creating over thirty hybrids commonly used today.

For ornamental gardening use, four “shapes” are commonly available. All are deliciously edible.

  • Sweet green basil: 2′ tall, with large leaves and white flower spikes. The clove/anise taste is typical of many types of basil. Others in this group include lettuce-leaf, Genovese, Thai (spicy), and the intensely fragrant and flavored Siam queen.
  • Dwarf basil: Up to 12″ tall, small leaves, white flowers. This group includes well known Spicy Globe and Boxwood basil (perfect edging plants due to rounded growth) and Green Bouquet.
  • Purple-leaved basil: Favorite varieties include Dark Opal, Purple Ruffle and Red Rubin, all with “fancy” leaves, very aromatic, with pink to lavender-purple flowers.
  • Scented-leaf basils: This group includes varieties of stronger aromas. Lemon basil (gray green leaves, white flowers) is aptly named as are cinnamon basil (dark pink flowers), and anise basil (blue purple flowers).

Basil, especially the purple-leaved, is wonderful in containers. Design as you would with any ornamental. Don’t overlook the value of placing a container near the BBQ and kitchen for easy use while cooking. It’s said planting basil around the patio or deck will deter flies…it certainly can’t hurt!

Wondering how to enjoy basil?

Used throughout the world with different regional foods, basil truly reigns. Although pesto is probably one of the best-known uses here in the US, basil is great in soups, sauces, pasta or in salads, vegetables and martinis. Remember to harvest before flowering for the best flavor. This also keeps the plant bushy and compact. Simply cut the entire stem just above a pair of leaves to promote new shoots. If you plan to use some leaves as garnish, cut with scissors to reduce bruising. Store in the refrigerator.

Extra basil? Dry it! Cut the plant at ground level, hang upside down in an airy room and let dry. After it’s fully dry, remove the leaves from stems and store in airtight jars away from direct light. Can’t be simpler.

Did you know, using basil is also very good for you? For many reasons basil is called the “holy herb” in other cultures. Research now shows it has strong anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial qualities. Additionally, it is rich in essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins including beta-carotene, vitamins A and K, and iron. Need we say more?

What are you waiting for? A good recipe perhaps? Here are two of our favorites chosen because of simplicity. Both are great ways to preserve your summer’s abundance of basil:

Fresh Basil Pesto Recipe (posted by Elise Bauer, 9/3/06 to Simplyrecipes.com)

2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium-sized minced garlic cloves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Combine the basil with the pine nuts in food processor, pulse several times. Add garlic, pulse a few more times. (If using walnuts, pulse several times before adding basil)

2. Slowly add olive oil in constant stream while food processor is on. Stop to scrape the sides with a rubber spatula. Add grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with paste or over baked potatoes or on toasted baguette slices.

Makes 1 Cup.

Basil Lemonade (Better Homes and Gardens)

12 cups cold water
2- 12 ounce cans frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves, torn (one .75-oz. pkg.)
Lemon slices and fresh basil (optional)

1. In extra-large bowl or pitcher combine water, lemonade concentrate, sugar, and lime juice. Stir well to combine. Stir in torn basil leaves. Cover; refrigerate 8 hours.

2. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into serving container; discard basil leaves. Chill up to 3 days.

3. Serve over ice with lemon slices and fresh basil.

Makes 12 servings

Western Garden Nursery

2756 Vineyard Ave.
Pleasanton, CA 94566

Phone: 925-462-1760

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