Ocimum basilicum (Labiatae)
Sweet basil herb garden plants bear tiny, white, purple-tinged flowers in midsummer and produce juicy aromatic leaves. A healthy plant reaches about 30 cms (1 ft) in height with good foliage. ‘Dark Opal’ has a gingery aroma, and when used shredded in salads adds a decorative air and exotic flavor.
Tender herb garden plants, several types are in cultivation. The large leaved, common or sweet basil, Ocimum barilicum, is the plant to choose for the kitchen with its strong, spicy, clove-like aroma. Dwarf or bush basil, O. mimimum, is hardier but has a weaker flavor.
Companion plant to tomatoes, peppers and squashes and essential in a classic Italian tomato sauce accompanying pasta.
An ancient plant from the Pacific Islands which reached England via Asia and Europe in the sixteenth century, and was taken by early settlers to America as essential herb garden plants.
In zones with a cold winter, sow basil in early to mid-spring in boxes or in frames, or later out of doors after all danger of frost has passed. Start the seedlings off in an environment with good protection and temperature until they can be hardened off and planted out safely.
In warmer zones, sow directly into beds – thereafter thin out to about 20 cms (8 ins) apart or transplant. Basil seedlings transplant easily. A plant can be potted up and kept indoors to maintain a fresh supply of leaves until late fall, or be grown indoors in a spot affording at least five hours of sunshine daily. Good patio or window-box herb garden plants which enjoy a sunny outdoor environment.
Do not plant near Rue, Basil and Rue seem to repel one another.
As a fixative in potpourri’s, used in bowls or bunches to repel insects indoors. (Bruise leaves occasionally ) Basil is both an antiseptic and tonic as well as being beneficial when rubbed on the temple for a headache.
Leaves are best picked young. Mine seem to do better the more often I pick leaves off. Because I employ rotational planting I have fresh leaves from late spring to late autumn (fall) – and we use plenty. Bush basil can be kept in a pot in the kitchen for gathering almost at will. Although not quite as flavorful, these are still a wonderfully aromatic herb garden plant.
Pete Steel has grown herbs for 25 years in several different climates and soils.
Photo. Jacqueline Macou