2.1 Basil

2.1.1 Growing basil

Best of the herbal forums: http://www.henriettes-herb.com/archives/best/1996/basil-root.html

From: engels.wibla.mv.att.com (engels s.m.):
Basil loves the sun and hates the cold & wind. If it drops below 50 degrees at night, the leaves will yellow. When it warms up the new growth will be green. If it doesn't get enough sun and stays in damp soil too long, it will eventually die. The wind will bruise the leaves. So will rough handling. Again, the new growth will be fine.

Very important to harden basil plants. Transplant shock may kill them. Set the pots outside for 3-5 days (watch the night temps) before transplanting.

I use compost and occasionally organic fertilizer. Never had any bug problems. A few caterpillars and rabbits, but there was plenty for everyone in my patch.

From: mrooney.mrooney.pn.com (Michael Rooney), in response to above:
I believe it is better to not transplant basil, i.e., it is better to put seeds in the ground where you want it, when it is warm enough for them to grow. They will quickly outstrip the transplants however carefully they have been grown and hardened.

Yes, they do tend not to attract many bugs which is a surprise given their good taste.

From: carole.chenson.demon.co.uk (Carole Henson)
I am addicted to basil, really love it, even the smell is wonderful. I have 10 basil plants in my greenhouse at the moment, and two in the kitchen for chucking into salad etc. You only need a couple of large handfuls of leaves for a jar of pesto, so a couple of plants would do it. If you sow a few seeds at 2 weekly intervals, you should have a constant supply.

From: Dwight Sipler <dps.hyperion.haystack.edu>
There are several different varieties of basil. Mammoth basil has very large leaves, although the leaves are somewhat savoyed (wrinkled).

I've had good luck with Genovese basil, which I get from Johnny's Selected Seeds. No particular soil preparation, just normal garden soil, fertilized every other year, limed as necessary (determined by pH test). I put in about 600 plants and I always lose a dozen or so to cutworms, critters etc., but it's not a big problem. I plant marigolds nearby since the Japanese beetles seem to like them and they keep the beetles off the basil plants.

From: jmanton.standard.com (Jeanne Manton):
Opal Basil is probably one of our most favorite plants and I was delighted when my favorite seed catalogue advertised a new purple variety this spring - Red Rubin. While a hearty grower, I found a very high number of 'green' starts and the mature plant resembles lemon verbena in shape and texture. I made a batch of jelly from one harvest and not only was the color more of a honey shade but it also captured and enhanced the vinegar (rice + wine) flavor. The leaves are too 'chewy' to be sliced over tomatoes but can pass the test when added to a cooked tomato sauce. Fortunately I also had a Purple Ruffles plant for my daughters vinegar as so much of the pleasure is derived from the lovely lavendar shade.

>basil eaten to skeleton; more eaten each morning, no bugs evident?

From: mrooney.mrooney.pn.com (Michael Rooney)
There is a caterpillar that seems often to like basil that lives under the surface of the earth during the day. Gently disturb the top quarter or half inch of dirt in a circle around the plant going out about four inches or so and look for a dark gray circle about half to three quarters of an inch in diameter that usually stays that way and sometimes opens up to get away (depending on how deep a sleep it is in I guess :-)). If you find it, squash it and hope. The only other predator I can see that would do what you have is a lot of slugs so you would likely see them anyway. They can be taken care of by all the standard beer, diatomaceous earth, etc. methods in addition to hand picking.

There are few joys as great as finding one of those blasted caterpillars in the ground after they have been eating your food, let me tell you.

> basil wilting in the sun?

From: bogin.is2.nyu.edu (Josh Bogin)
Probably this is due to not enough water **and or possibly resulting from** not enough room for the plants. If the plants are root-bound it really will hardly matter how much you are watering them, since the pot would presumably be too small to hold much water, the plant would keep drying out, and also the roots probably get no nutrients. Give them some plant food, and think about finding them more room, if this is the problem.

From: wolf.gaia.caltech.edu (Wolf)
Here in Southern California, (Pasadena) our sweet Basil that "was" in full sun started wilting one after the other. Every couple of days, another one wilted. The sweet Basil we planted in part-shade (Morning shade, afternoon full sun) is thriving, and the plants are giant. They make great pesto. On the other hand, we have some purple Basil which is also in full sun, and it is completely unaffected by the heat. All plants are getting really big, despite frequent pinching. All plants get plenty of water, and the dirt around the dying plants was plenty moist.

The instructions on seed packets are simply not meant for folks in the Southwest.

Sweet basil is heat intolerant. It will do great in full sun if the temperatures don't exceed 85-90 degrees on average. Any hotter, and it starts wilting in full sun.

> have basil in pot; can I plant it outside?

From: Debbie Golembiski <102522.1235.CompuServe.COM>
You sure can move your potted basil into the ground. Just cut it back a bit first and try to move it with as much soil intact as possible.
Basil loves full sun, so pick a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sun daily.

> saw some basil for sale with huge healthy green leaves that put mine to shame.

From: wolf.gaia.caltech.edu (Wolf)
The guys who have these giant sweet basil plants feed them with Urea. Seems to do the trick. Also, sweet basil doesn't like it too hot, and likes to have moist soil. Make sure you pinch off any flowers before they go to seed. If you follow these guidelines, you should get giant plants.

> ...no basil sprouting - too wet for the last three weeks?

From: southsky.maui.net (Rick Giese):
Basil seeds will not germinate when they are constantly wet. I started mine in flats protected from the winter rains here on Maui. Once transplanted to the field, they did fine.

2.1.2 Harvesting basil

From: engels.wibla.mv.att.com (engels s.m.):
You can harvest basil leaves as soon as the plant has 3 sets of leaves. Keep the plants branches shorter than 4 sets of leaves and you will increase leaf production. Once it flowers, production drops. I've found the taste stronger before flowering.

From: mmorriso.blue.weeg.uiowa.edu (Mark David Morrison)
Basil leaf harvesting: pick all that you think that you will need for the recipe that you are preparing. If you have a lot of basil and are freezing basil for winter then just pick the big leaves. I use a lot of basil and pick leaves from the plant almost daily. If they are small or big leaves does not matter... the plant is the hardiest beast in my gardens. I think it may be of alien origin.

Pinching back basil: Always pinch off and use those tops. The leaves will really bush out on your basil when you do.

From: kathleen.snyder.lunatic.com (Kathleen Snyder)
Pick all over. Don't strip the stems of all the leaves. Be careful not to tear the stem when cutting off a leaf. I use scissors. Tearing can some times strip the stem and damage it.

Pinching will make it fuller. Don't let it flower either. Pinch off the flower buds the minute you see them coming.

From: stlouins.cnsvax.uwec.edu (Dina)
I often just go out and pluck off as much as I need once the plants are established--sometimes a third or more of the plant, depending on whether I'm making salad, herbing vinegars, or harvesting some to dry. Pinching back makes the plants bushier, and I'd definitely start cutting back when the plants start to flower. They grow back quickly.

From: David Perry <dperry.bbn.com>
The best method is to pinch them back at the main stem(s) a couple of times early in their lives. This will create a bushier plant rather than the single tree looking specimen.

Thereafter, just take the tips of the stems to keep the plant from going to seed. You will notice the tips become very heavy with small pointier leaves just before it goes to seed. Clip back any large main leaves when you notice the secondary buds beginning to show along the main stem, or when they get too big and seem to be sapping the rest of the plant (these leaves are great to wrap steaks for the grill, snip for salads etc...mmmmm!)

I also found that the leaves are oilier and more fragrant early in the day or at night. Of course, most of us don't use basil at 3 a.m.

Also, basil really doesn't have to be spaced out as much as the packet literature states. I fill ½ barrels of basil every year. I thin out only enough to keep full sun and air circulation on all plants.

From Deborahrah.aol.com:
Growing Basils in Texas
I have had great sucess growing basil in the hot climate of Texas. I plant my basils in the afternoon shade of indeterminate tomatoes. My basils get about 6 hours of sun each morning. This shade is necessary, as the basil leaves will get "bleached" in the scalding Texas sun. Basil is my absolute favorite and it would be a sad day indeed if I couldn't pick it fresh from my garden.

2.1.3 Using / preserving basil

Also see Pesto, 4.9.2 , and Basil jelly, 4.6.1.

From herblady.newsguy.com (Rastapoodle):

I've noticed that practically every freezing, oil or pesto instruction given here notes that the basil turns black. Although edible, it is very unappetizing, IMO. There is a standard culinary technique to combat this, so that you will have bright green oils, ice cubes, pesto, or whatever form you are preserving your basil.


Take the basil, either still on the stem, or single leaves that you've plucked off the stem, and plunge them into a large pot of boiling water for 15-30 seconds. If a clump of single leaves, give them a quick stir so they don't lump. Then, either plucking the stems with leaves out, or using a strainer, quickly remove the basil and plunge it into a large pan of cold water that holds ice cubes. This will stop the 'cooking'. The leaves will be bright green, and stay bright green.

You will then need to thoroughly dry them before processing, either with towels, a salad spinner, or whatever your favorite method.

Then, make your oil, pesto, ice cubes, or favorite preservation technique, and you will be eating green, not black, basil in December.

> ... alternatives for using pesto or fresh sweet basil?

From: jwr3150.tam2000.tamu.edu (Jason Wade Rupe)
I bake it right into bread sometimes.
I like a stir fry of basil and whatever with a basic simple sauce on rice.
Try using it fresh as a pizza topping.

From: cogorno.netcom.com (Steve Cogorno)
Take GOOD quality tomatoes, preferably ones you've grown yourself :-) and slice them. Top with fresh mozzarella whole basil leaves. A little expensive because of the cheese, but it makes a very colorful and tasty appetizer!

From: french.jeeves.ucsd.edu (Kathy French)
If your basil plants aren't producing fast enough to give you a cup or two of leaves at a time, you can pinch off stems and keep them with the ends of the stems in clean water (change it every few days) at room temperature for several days. Freezing the leaves doesn't work so well, because it will make them mushy when they thaw, and it reduces their flavor as well.

You can also preserve basil by washing it carefully, drying it thoroughly, packing it in good olive oil, and keeping it in the refrigerator. Then you can use the leaves plus oil to make pesto fresh when you want it by adding garlic, cheese, and pine nuts. I've tried this method and it works well, although the basil turns somewhat dark in the process.

From: mrooney.mrooney.pn.com (Michael Rooney)
You can make basil pesto and freeze it in cubes or patties and save it for the winter when you have nothing fresh to use.

From jmanton.standard.com (Jeanne Manton):
I use Genova Perfum Basil and throroughly wash the leaves in vegetable soap (available at natural foods stores). Dry completely with paper towels, then dice (I use a french knife). Pack into sterilized ½ pint jars: 1 layer of fresh ground Parmesan, one layer of basil, one layer of fresh ground sea salt. Continue layering process until the jar is nearly full. Cover with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil and seal. Store in the refrigerator (I use the coldest shelf). I don't know how long this keeps because we will use the entire jar within two months but my last really big supply was still fresh after nine months. Can be used on everything except corn flakes!

A blooming appetizer:

From: jmanton.standard.com (Jeanne Manton)

1 8 oz cream cheese (neuchaftel is too light but may be substituted)
1 8 oz cheve (creamed goat cheese)
⅛ tsp dried garlic chips, crushed
1 tsp minced (using knife) basil, perferably Perfum

Mix the above together using your hands and shape into a ball. Place on plastic wrap and flatten. Generously sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper. Decorate with herbs and flowers (sprig of tarragon, few blossoms and stems of rosemary, johnny jump ups - whatever) and wrap airtight. Refrigerate overnight and serve either with a strong cracker or baguette slices.

This is a real favorite when I take it to work although one of my co-workers suggested I had dropped the cheese ball in the driveway just after the lawn had been mowed.

Note: When I make these for Christmas I use sprigs of rosemary and three or so red peppercorns.

Freezing basil

From Deborahrah.aol.com:
"Fresh is best" certainly holds true for basil. But what to do in the winter for that fresh taste? I have found a method that works. When my basil is ready for harvest, I cut off about 20-30 branches early in the morning. Then I rush it to my kitchen, where I already have a large dishpan of cold,clean water waiting. I place the basil in the water and gently move it around slowly.(Putting the basil in the pan and then running water over it would release too much of the flavorful oils.) I remove the basil from the water and let it drain in a colander,shaking excess water from the plant. After a few minutes of this, I place the basil between clean kitchen towels letting the terry cloth absorb more water. Do not rub the basil with the towels, as it will bruise it. Next, I take small squares of "Handi Wrap" about 4" x 4" and place 6-7 basil leaves stacked on top of each other. I gently wrap the basil with the plastic wrap and put the little packets in a freezer proof bag. In the winter when I need it, I remove the basil packet from the freezer. I immediately crush the basil while it is inside the packet. This method "cracks" the frozen basil into small pieces which I add to recipes. The trick to this is to "crack" the basil within 10 seconds of removing it from freezer, or you will have soft,wimpy basil. The basil will taste as good as fresh, but will be almost black in color. It is the fresh flavor that sells me on this method, not the appearance.

Basil oil

Best of the herbal forums: http://www.henriettes-herb.com/archives/best/1996/basil-pres.html

From Laurie Otto <lotto.ptialaska.net>
Someone asked about drying basil. In my opinion, it wastes flavor to dry basil. Better to put it in the food processor with olive oil, make a paste and freeze it for later use. Or try making salted oiled basil leaves:

Note: Even though a lot of oil is used for this it can be cleaned off before using the basil so please don't discount this in the interest of maintaining a low-fat lifestyle! The oil is merely a preservative and it does keep the basil absolutely fresh for months!

Carefully clean *and dry* each leaf. Use a salad spinner or swing the leaves around in a clean, dry towel for a few minutes. Pat dry, just to be sure ... : ) This is really important, so please be thorough! Next pour a little virgin- or extra-virgin olive oil into a sealable crock, preferably a stone one. The small kind used to house cheesespreads are ideal! Sprinkle a little salt on the oil. Add a single layer of basil leaves, careful not to overlap them. Cover with a thin layer of oil and sprinkle with more salt. Do this until the crock is full, then top off with oil and salt. Seal. Store in the refrigerator and it will keep indefinitely. To use the basil, simply take out what you need *with a very clean utensil* and, if you like, wash it well to remove the salt and oil.

From: Melissa_C._Davidson.city-net.com (Melissa C. David)
I tried to make basil oil the other day. I had a sterile, sealed bottle, basil from the yard, and olive oil. Put the herbs in the bottle, completely covered with oil plus a few inches. Supposed to be good for many months but the basil molded up within 2 weeks !! Help!

From: lgf0.Lehigh.EDU (Lesleigh G. Federinic) to above:
I always refrigerate mine. Only once did it mold on me in the frig but then I had it there for several months during the winter and hadn't been using it. I use it up in the summer. It's good for frying zucchini and mushrooms as well as making angel hair pasta sauce.

From: Yasha.bioch.tamu.edu (Yasha Hartberg)
I'm not sure having never done it myself, but it seems a bit strange to start with a sterile bottle and then add non-sterile leaves and oil to it and expect anything less than mold, bacteria, etc. I wonder if you might not try heating the mixture up a bit before sealing the bottle?

From: aa100465.dasher.csd.sc.edu (J Michel)
For years I've been preserving end of the summer basil leaves in olive oil with salt (lots - don't know how much - sprinkled on successive additions of leaves and oil to cover). The leaves turn black in the oil, but not moldy, and thru the winter I fish out a couple from time to time to use in cooking. I store it in the refrig. and in summer I toss out the salt which has settled to the bottom of the jar along with the last of the oil.

I am about to be a convert to the Ice cube basil/oil pesto storage method in order to eliminate the salt. However, I'd suggest experimenting with adding salt, or trying refrigeration.

From: rcook.BIX.com (Rick Cook)
The key is moisture. If there's moisture in the plant (as there is in basil leaves -- a lot of it) you're likely to get mold when you make basil oil.

If you want to make basil oil, grind the basil into a paste, add to the olive oil to steep for a while in the refrigerator and then filter the mixture.

From Richard White <hazelwood.ultranet.ca>:

Re. problems with basil oil: harvest leaves and place in a large pot, cover with oil (we use canola). On medium heat bring oil to a temperature of no more than 190 F. Hold at this temperature for 20 minutes. Cool rapidly and allow to stand overnight. Remove leaves and siphon off oil, leaving sediment and water behind. Bottle into sterilized containers. It will be cloudy at this point but will eventually clear. Adding dried basil to the container will help clear it faster.

Drying basil

> drying basil - how long?

From: Kim Pratt <pratt.olympus.net>
The time factor really depends on where you hang it to dry, what the temperature is. Mine usually takes about 2 or 3 weeks to dry. That is hanging upside down with stems tied together in a bundle, in the kitchen. If you have a dusty house, after tying together in a bundle put inside a small paper bag that has been punched full of small holes and hang that (tie the top of the bag to the top of the stems so your herbs are still hanging upside down).

From: evedex.hookup.net (Eve Dexter)
My dehydrator has a fan and the drying takes only 1 ½ -2 hours, depending upon the humidity of the day of course. I suggest you start in the am and keep a close eye on the process - it shouldn't take too much longer in your model.

2.1.4 Which basil do you have?

Best of the herbal forums: http://www.henriettes-herb.com/archives/best/1996/basils.html

From: farmermj.bham.ac.uk (Malcolm Farmer):
Some suppliers offer different varieties of basil. Chiltern Seeds in the UK, for example, has about a *dozen* different varieties. Two I have growing now are:

Lemon basil - thinner, smaller, rather pointed leaves when compared with regular basil. Has strong lemony odour: when you tear up the leaves the smell is gorgeous, somewhere between mint and basil.

Thai basil - similar in appearance to lemon basil leaves, but slightly darker with stems having a purplish tinge. Scent is somewhat like regular basil, but much spicier and more fragrant. A friend says her Thai cooking using regular basil never tastes quite the same as authentic Thai, so I'm going to give her some of the Thai stuff to see if that's the reason....

>> The basils I grow are regular sweet basil, Spicy Globe, lemon basil, cinnamon basil, licorice basil, and holy basil. ... snip .... I've tried the holy basil in tea, but don't care much for it. I've read about using it as an incense/smudge ingredient.
>have you tried using the holy basil in Thai cooking? I've seen a number of Thai recipes that call for it. From what I've read, it's a hot (spicy) variety. I've been thinking of growing it, since I haven't found a source to buy it.

From: Conrad Richter <culinary.richters.com>:
I thought I should jump in here. There is a lot of confusion in the herb world about "holy" basil. Most of the seeds I have seen on the market is actually a hybrid of undetermined parentage. It is NOT Ocimum sanctum, the "sacred" basil known to the Indians as "tulsi" which many people assume.

We call "holy" basil, "spice" basil, following a convention established by Helen Darrah in her monograph on basils. I actually don't like her choice of name because it confuses newbies who think that this is the regular basil for regular basil use, but at least it is better than "holy" basil which everybody gets confused with O. sanctum.

If you want the real McCoy, you need to insist on O. sanctum. There are several varieties (purple, green and probably others) and it does turn up in seeds from Thailand where the plant is grown for use in cooking.

Now, there is also such a thing as "Thai basil" which yet another animal altogether. If you are looking for the basil used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, you will want this. Now, some companies (including us) have in the past sold "anise basil" as being equivalent to "Thai basil" but we now know that this is not true.