Basil grows best in zones 9-11. Basil grows between 30–130 cm tall, with opposite, light green, silky leaves 3–11 cm long and 1–6 cm broad, and produces small flowers and small seeds. Basil is very sensitive to cold and best growth in hot, dry conditions. In the U.S it will grow best if sown under glass in a peat pot, then planted out in late spring/early summer (when there is little chance of a frost). Additionally, it may be sown in soil once chance of frost is past. It fares best in a well-drained sunny spot. Although basil grows best outdoors, it can be grown indoors in a pot and, like most herbs, will do best on an equator-facing windowsill. It should be kept away from extremely cold drafts, and grows best in strong sunlight, therefore a greenhouse or row cover is ideal if available. They can, however, be grown even in a basement, under fluorescent lights. Basil can also be propagated in water with stem cuttings - roots will regrow in 1-2 weeks. If basil leaves have wilted from lack of water, it will recover if watered thoroughly and placed in a sunny location. Yellow leaves towards the bottom of the plant are an indication that the plant has been stressed; usually this means that it needs less water, or less or more fertilizer. Basil will thrive over the summertime in central and northern United States, but dies out when temperatures reach freezing point. It will grow back the next year if allowed to go to seed. It is suggested that basil is potted and taken inside as the fall/winter season approaches. Basil is an excellent companion plant for tomatoes, and they can actually influence the taste of some tomatoes when planted next to each other. Other good companion plants include peppers, eggplants, and oregano. Basil also aids in repelling thrips, flies, and mosquitoes.
Culinary and Medicinal Uses
Basil is commonly used fresh in recipes. In general, it is added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavor. The fresh herb can be kept for a short time in plastic bags in the refrigerator, or for a longer period in the freezer, after being blanched quickly in boiling water. The dried herb also loses most of its flavor, and what little flavor remains tastes very different, with a weak coumarin flavor, like hay.
Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto—a green Italian oil-and-herb sauce. Its other main ingredients are olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts. The Chinese also use fresh or dried basils in soups and other foods. In Taiwan, people add fresh basil leaves to thick soups. Basil (most commonly Thai basil) is steeped in cream or milk to create an interesting flavor in ice cream or chocolates (such as truffles). The leaves are not the only part of basil used in culinary applications, the flower buds have a more subtle flavor and they are edible. Thai basil is also a condiment in the Vietnamese noodle soup, phở.
Significance to Cultural Communities
Basil is originally native to India and other tropical regions of Asia. The plant is quite important to Indian cultures, particularly Hinduism. It was secret to Krishna and Vishnu, and it used to be said that every Hindu slept with a Basil leaf on his breast. (2) In India, Basil (more commonly known as Holy Basil) is known as Tulsi (Sanskrit for "incomparable"), with Shyama (Dark) and Gaura (light) as the two main distinctions of tulsi. The dark tulsi is known to have more medicinal values than the light tulsi. Basil is planted in courtyards of Hindu families, said to bring peace to the home as well as purify the environment. (3) In modern day aromatherapy techniques, basil essential oil is thought of as energizing, specifically for the heart and mind, relieving of sorrow. (4)
1. “Ocimum.” The Plant Encyclopedia. January 13, 2013. http://www.theplantencyclopedia.org/wiki/Ocimum.
2. “Holy Basil.” Plant Cultures: Exploring Plants & People. http://www.kew.org/plant-cultures/plants/holy_basil_landing.html
3. “Tulsi (Holy Basil) and Its Benefits” HubPages. December 25, 2011. http://shwetha123.hubpages.com/hub/Tulsi-Holy-Basil-and-Its-Benefits.
4. “Basil Essential Oil.” Auracacia: Pure Essential Oils. http://www.auracacia.com/auracacia/aclearn/eo_basil.html.