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HERBS

Basil
By Shirley Miller, Master Gardener

Ocimum basilicum

Sweet Basil
O. basilicum

Basil is an annual plant with toothed, pointed to oval leaves. Some species will grow to a height of 18 inches. Basil grows well in a container on a sunny window sill. There are several varieties of basil, including lemon, bush or spicy, and dark opal.

How to grow: Basil is not hardy in this zone. Protect the plant from wind and very hot summer sun. Plant basil in rich, moist, well-drained soil. Avoid over watering seedlings, as they are prone to "damping off". Always water in mid-day. As with most herbs, basil is relatively pest free.

Propagation: Propagate by planting seeds. Sew thinly in heated conditions. After first true leaves appear, transplant to larger container or directly into the garden. Keep seedlings moist until established.

Harvesting: Pick leaves when young. Gather early in the morning when flowers are beginning to open.

Preserving: Dry or freeze individual leaves. To prepare for freezing, paint both sides of leaves with olive oil. Store whole leaves in olive oil with salt, or dry pack with salt. Infuse leaves in oil.

Culinary uses: Pound with oil or tear with fingers rather than chop. Add at the last minute to cooked dishes. Top salads with basil. Make a pesto sauce. Many Mediterranean dishes include basil. Basil and pine nut paste create a wonderful spaghetti sauce. Infuse with vinegar for a great salad dressing. Fresh basil and tomatoes with a little salad oil make a wonderful addition to any summer meal. Basil's pungency increases with cooking.

Other uses: A basil plant in a pot on the window adds cheer and when brushed, gives the kitchen a wonderful fragrance.