Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.

photo courtesy of the National Garden Bureau

All About Basil

by Sandra Bowens

Basil symbolizes hate except in Italy. To Italians it symbolizes love and love it they do. Some say an Italian suitor will announce his matrimonial intentions by arriving with a sprig of basil in his hair. This aromatic herb is revered in India, where a leaf is added to the grave with a Hindu body and is frequently cultivated around temples.


Other cultures in other ages have associated basil with scorpions. A Medieval superstition suggested they would breed under pots of basil and later it was feared that even smelling the sweet aroma of basil could cause scorpions to grow in your brain.


Today, basil or Ocimum basilicum is loved by cooks and gardeners. Although indigenous to India, Africa and Asia, this bushy member of the mint family is grown now in nearly every temperate climate. The available varieties are seemingly endless and easy to grow from seed. Early Greeks and Romans believed that shouting and cursing while sowing the seeds would insure a healthy crop but all you really need to do is provide well-drained soil in full sun where the temperature doesn't fall below 50 degrees F.  Most basil plants are annuals, however, so you will see them wane at the end of each growing season. Keep the flowers pinched back and prune often to extend the growing period.


Pruning the leaves is the cook's favorite part. Whether you have lovely broad purple leaves or petite green foliage, basil will enhance a wide range of dishes. This aromatic herb with a sweet odor and pungent flavor is used in both the dried and fresh forms frequently. Known as l’herbe royale, or the King of Herbs, it is found in so many tomato dishes that it is also called THE tomato herb.


Basil is one of the few herbs that the flavor actually intensifies upon cooking. Use it in any Italian dish, especially combined with oregano, or to flavor meats, vegetables, fish and soups. Toss handfuls of fresh leaves into salads and use the tiny flowers as a garnish.


Kept in window pots basil is said to keep away flies. Keep your own window pot and use the trimmings for this pesto.




In the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, 1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 cloves of garlic, quartered, 2 Tablespoons of olive oil and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Process to a fine paste. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Serve over hot pasta and tomatoes or spread on French bread slices and broil.  Makes about 1 cup.


HINT: Next time you sauté summer squash, toss in a little dried basil to accent the flavors.

Here's one that's full of our favorite recipes because we wrote the book! It is also full of information, helpful hints and ideas for using herbs and spices in your kitchen.

 A luscious book from the Herbfarm kitchen-nursery filled with unusual ideas for using fresh herbs. See's review of this book.

 A handy and highly-recommended  reference for growing herbs, vegetables and edible flowers on your deck or patio. See's  review of this book.

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