Widely grown and extensively used, this popular herb can be found lending its signature smell and taste to dishes as varied as the Italian basil pesto sauce used in pasta to the yummy spicy Thai basil chicken. The plant grows quite quickly and easily. So, if you are new to herb gardening, you may as well start with basil.
What Is Basil?
Ocimum basilicum or Basil is often called the “King of Herbs.” This fragrant and omnipresent herb belongs to the mint family and is a native of the tropics. It loves warm weather and grows both outdoor and indoor, on various soil from a proper garden patch to a pot on your kitchen window easily. A summertime herb, Basil, can be found everywhere from Africa to Europe to Asia.
Popular Types of Basil To Grow
Basil has essential oils that help in fighting off bacterial and viral infections. Its leaves contain antioxidants that help prevent free radical-induced damage. It helps in calming and is used as a destressing agent, along with providing Liver support. Varieties of Basil found are;
1. Sweet Basil
Popular and widely used in Italian dishes, this is the variety of Basil that is most commonly available worldwide. Sold, dried in most supermarkets, the herb has an earthy and spicy flavor similar to a mix of licorice and clove.
2. Thai Sweet Basil
As the name suggests, this variety is used in Asian dishes mainly for flavor retention even after being cooked. Thai Basil’s leaves are darker in color and smaller in size. The flavor profile is more licorice and less clove.
3. Greek Basil
The distinct feature of Greek Basil is its flavor profile of Anise and clove combination.
4. Cinnamon Basil
This Mexican variety has a distinct light green to brown leaf and has a very spicy flavor.
5. Purple Basil
Also called the Red Rubin variety, this basil has deep purple leaves and a good flavor profile. They bring a nice touch of color to your salad or other dishes requiring green toppings.
6. Holy Basil
Holy Basil or Tulsi has small green or purple leaves. Used mainly as a medicinal plant, all parts of the plant improve physical and mental well-being.
Why Grow Basil
The question that you should be asking is why not grow basil? The herb is a key ingredient in many cuisines. Whether it is a salad or poultry, fish or veggies, Basil’s spicy flavor allows you to be inventive and experimental while cooking. Basil and Tomato pairing are probably the most versatile ones around. Daily use of Basil has several health benefits too. Crushed basil leaves with raw honey make for an excellent mixture that soothes the throat and provides anti-bacterial protection. However, you get the most out of the herb when the leaves are fresh, and the freshest possible leaves come from your garden! Basil grows easily, so you can grow basil from the seed of the plant or the cuttings. There are many ways to propagate basil. It is also a plant that is not maintenance-heavy.
How To Plant Basil
Basil does not require a large piece of your garden to be grown. You can grow basil outdoors in a pot, or your kitchen, the quality of herb you harvest will not suffer as long as the soil has nutrients and there is enough moisture and light around. Since this is an annual herb and does not like cold conditions, the best time to plant Basil is few weeks after the frost is over, and the ground is warm. You can also plant it in the summer months.
1. From Seeds
Planting basil seeds between spring and summer is the best way to grow young plants for potting. Prepare the soil for your starter pot, place a few seeds in the middle of each pot and cover them with a thin layer of soil/ dirt. Water sparingly till germination and the seedlings are big enough for potting.
2. From Cuttings
Basil cuttings easily develop root systems. Take a four-inch-long cutting from the stem that is yet to flower and keep the cut side dipped in a glass of water that is changed every two days till the root system starts developing. Once adequate roots have formed, you can cut out of the water and transplant them in a pot or a garden.
3. Type of Soil
Moist and fertile soil with excellent drainage is ideal for growing Basil. A soil containing organic compost rich in nutrients would work best.
4. Pots or Plots
This versatile plant has grown well in containers of all sizes. Before transplantation of the seedlings from starter pots to the garden, give time for acclimatization by keeping the pots in the out for a few hours every day for few days before planting.
5. Plant Spacing
Keeping the plants 12 to 24 inches apart, depending on the variety, would give each plant the required nutrition to grow.
6. Water and Sun
Basil hates to be in wet compost or soil. Therefore water deeply only once a day after the topsoil has dried off. Keep the plant in a place where it gets plenty of sunlight but avoids baking in the mid-day sun.
Adding multipurpose compost generally improves soil nutrient levels. In addition, you may use blood meal or cottonseed meal to get richer foliage and a better harvest.
8. Friends of Basil
Tomatoes and Basils are great neighbors. Some say that Tomatoes taste better when planted next to Basil. Parsley, Lettuce, and Peppers are other plants with similar lighting and water needs like Basil’s company.
9. Enemies of Basil
Apart from poor drainage, excess watering, excessive heat, and cold weather, Basil too suffers from bacterial and fungal infections and requires some care and maintenance.
How To Grow And Cultivate Basil
Basil grows quite quickly. From planting to Harvesting, it can take as little as 3 to 4 weeks. Here are some tips to get the most out of your basil plant.
1. Do I need new plants every year?
Basil is not a perennial but a semi-hardy annual plant. Those in pots will be good for a maximum of 6 months. You would need new plants each year to get the best produce. You can keep some of your old plants indoors during winter to get a supply of the herb and to have a plant ready for cutting and planting in the next season.
2. How to produce maximum growth
This herb grows well in containers with a good drainage system, fertile soil, and a warm place. A soil with a pH of 6 or 7 and not excessively nutrient-rich is ideal for Basil. Too many nutrients adversely affect the flavor and aroma.
3. Warm and sunny conditions
While the plant can bear hot weather, try and avoid the direct heat of mid-day sun.
4. Moist but not wet
In hot areas, you can use moisture around the plant to avoid the excess summer heat and suppress the growth of other weeds.
5. When to cultivate?
Warm soil and warm weather are a must for the cultivation of Basil. Ensure that the outside temperature is a consistent 70° F. The nighttime temperature is not below 50° F. Rushing through with the planting when the season has not changed will give you a sub-optimal survival rate for your basil plants.
6. How to cultivate?
The herb needs moist soil and but no waterlogging. If you are going to plant the herb in the garden, creating a raised bed would help you achieve Basil’s drainage properties. Properly spaced planting and regular harvesting would give you a good supply of the herb that is rich in its aroma and flavor.
How Much Sun Does Basil Need
Basil likes a warm environment and grows well if it receives about five to six hours of sunlight each day. To take care of basil plants indoors, you should ensure that they get enough of the sun. An east-facing window could be a good spot for your Basil pot.
How Long Does It Take For Basil To Grow
Basil seeds germinate quite quickly in about a week. Similarly, the cuttings grow roots in 5 to 10 days. From planting to the plant growing its first 6 to 10 leaves, it is a short 3 to 4 weeks when you can start harvesting. Once the temperatures reach the 80°F mark, the plant will start leafing out and will be ready for harvesting.
How Much Water Does Basil Need
Always water your basil plants carefully. Except for the summer months, liberal watering is not needed in other months. Regular and consistent watering will give you the best result. Keeping the soil moist and early morning watering is the secret formula for a happy basil plant. Do remember that the water is for the roots. Splashing water on the leaves only leads to evaporation and may create fungal infections.
How To Harvest Basil
1. When to pick the leaves?
Basil should be cultivated before the onset of cold weather and before the plant starts flowering. The flowers are edible but have less flavor, and once the flowering starts, the leaves start to lose their flavor. You can start harvesting once the plant has reached a height of 6 to 8 inches. Start early in the morning; that is when the leaves have the most flavor and juice.
2. How to pick the leaves?
Harvest the herb as you would do for Mint. This is a pick-on-the-go kind of herb. You can pick individual leaves or snip a stem just above the point where two leaves join. This helps in more branching and more leaves for harvesting. Regular harvesting of the leaves would give you a steady supply of top-quality basil through the summer. Remember to leave 3 – 4 pairs of the side shoots intact so that the plant can regrow.
How To Store Basil
Basil is best used fresh! When used in the last stages of cooking a dish, the flavor and aroma of fresh basil are unmatched. However, when you produce in excess, it is best to store the excess produce for later use. There are several ways you can store and use basil leaves.
Freezing retains most of the flavor of fresh leaves. Clean the leaves post-harvest, put them in an airtight freezer bag or container, and place them in the freezer. Remember not to wash the leaves since that would only make them slimy.
This method leads to the loss of essential oil and reduces the intensity of flavor. To dry your leaves, you need a drying rack, a dry and well-ventilated area, and some time. The summer heat should dry out the leaves in 3 to 4 days.
3. In Vinegar
If you are growing the purple basil, then storing it in vinegar is an excellent idea to play up the lovely color of the leaves. Just add cleaned leaves to the bottle of vinegar and seal the lid tightly.
4. Flavoured Oil
Basil lends its spicy flavor and an intense aroma to the oil it is stored in. Using a light oil for storage will let the flavor fully infuse.
How To Care For Basil Plant
It is relatively easy to maintain basil plants. The plant tolerates heat well and is not a water guzzler. It also does not have too much of a pest problem. Here are some simple tips to take care of your basil.
1. Consistent Watering
Basil likes to stay moist. Watering weekly to keep the soil moist in the hot summer months would be sufficient. If your plant is in a container, it will need more frequent watering.
2. Enough Heat
This herb likes heat and can survive warm weather quite well. Avoid keeping it in the scorching heatwaves for too long, though. The use of mulch might allow your plant to deal with excessive heat effectively.
3. Regular Harvesting
Regular harvesting of the leaves produces full and bushy foliage and the overall growth of the plant.
4. Companion Plants
Basil loves the company of tomatoes and Peppers. Not scientifically proven, but this is a strategy everyone adopts to get the best out of their herb garden.
5. Avoid Going to Seed
Once your plant starts bolting or producing seeds, you will find a marked decline in the quality of the leaves. Keeping a close eye on the plant and avoiding excessive heat by watering and shade for the plants on the outside and removing the flowers will get your Basil back to producing those aromatic leaves you love so much.
Common Pests and Diseases Affecting Basil Plant
The aroma of Basil protects it typically from regular pests. However, sometimes it’s affected by pests such as snails, slugs, whiteflies, and red spider mites. Like many other plans, Basil is also susceptible to a certain type of molds and fungus.
The aroma of Basil’s addition to food and the health benefits it gives on regular usage makes it the king of the herbs. Since it is so easy to grow, maintain and harvest, there is no excuse for you to continue using the store-bought dried basil. Get going and access your fresh basil for all your meals…