Beautiful Basil

Basil is a fragrant, easy-to-grow herb. If it could talk, it would scream, "Summer is here!". It is a must-have for every organic garden. It is a plant native to Asia, where it has been cultivated for about 5,000 years. It comes in many different sizes, colors and scents, so there's bound to be a variety (or a few) that becomes a favorite in your garden.

Since there are more than 40 varieties of basil and all of them are well-suited for organic gardening, you can decide which ones you want to try. ForItalian cooking, Genovese and Italian Large Leaf basil varieties are hard to beat. Thai basil varieties are sweeter than Italian varieties and have a cinnamon and clove flavor to them. Other specialty basils come in purple or variegated colors or in fruity or citrus scents.

Growing basil
Basil is easy to grow, requiring little more than a sunny, well-drained spot, occasional watering if rainfall is scarce an weather is warm. It is a very tender plant and can't stand even a hint of frost. Your basil will be at its fragrant best if you fertilize it sparingly. You should pinch off any flower heads as they emerge in order to encourage your plant to become bushier and produce more leaf whorls.

Basil can be started from seed or transplanted into your garden. Basil seedlings are easy to grow organically as long as you have a warm place to keep them. Basil doesn-t have too many insect pests. The most notable disease problem that afflicts basil, typically while the plants are still seedlings, is Fusarium Wilt, a fungal disease. The easiest way to fight Fusarium Wilt by organic methods is to buy fusarium-resistant varieties of basil.

Your organic container garden is also a great place to grow basil. There are several compact varieties that only reach 8 to 12 inches tall but have the same excellent flavor as their taller cousins.

Harvesting basil
Your basil is ready to harvest when you can pluck off several whorls of leaves and there are still enough leaves on the plant for it to recover. Always harvest your basil when it is sunny out and the plants are not covered with dew or moisture. If there is water on the leaves, they will turn black after you pick them. Basil leaves bruise very easily and should always be harvested by plucking a whorl of leaves off by their stem, not by pulling individual leaves off of the plant. Discard any seedheads that become mixed in with your harvest. The leaves are the tasty, edible part of this plant.

Since it is fast growing, decorative and so easy to grow and use, basil should definitely have a place in your organic garden.

Great basil varieties for organic gardens

  • Genovese--the classic!

  • Italian Large Leaf-- ideal for pesto.

  • Aroma--Fusarium resistant.

  • Spicy Bush--Compact with sweet flavor. Great for containers.

  • Mrs. Burns--tangy and lemon flavored.

  • Red Ruben--pretty purple leaves. Very decorative and edible too.

Pesto Sauce
(Serves 4)

  • 3 medium garlic cloves

  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, walnuts, almonds or peanuts

  • 2 packed cups fresh basil leaves

  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves (optional)

  • 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

  • salt to taste

  1. Peel and mince garlic.

  2. If desired, toast nuts in skillet over medium heat until golden.

  3. Place all ingredients except cheese in work bowl of food processor; process until smooth. Scrape sides of bowl as necessary to ensure even mixing.

  4. Transfer mixture to small bowl. Add cheese and salt to taste.

Pesto can be covered with plastic wrap and stored in the refrigerator for up to five days. A thin film of oil will keep the top of the pesto sauce from turning dark.

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If there is one herb that every gardener should grow, it is basil. Not only is basil an important flavoring for many popular dishes, it's also beautiful enough to fit in any ornamental garden. It's used in the cuisine of many nations, as a part of sacred rituals and as a medicinal herb. Basil is easy to grow and can even be grown on a windowsill.

Tender culinary perennial (annual in colder climates) that is surprisingly easy to grow. Common sweet basil has glossy, deep green leaves but the many varieties of basil differ extensively in habit and color. Grows 1 to 3 feet, depending upon variety.

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When you learn how to grow basil, you will finally be on your way to being a true gardener.

If you know how to dry basil, you will have yummy herbs to use when you cook all year long.

Harvesting basil will let you add this delicious plant to your cooking whenever you'd like.

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