|Basil (Ocimum basilicum)|
(Thanks to Jenelle at Frugal Family Feasts for the photo!)
To continue my recent herb theme, this weeks' plant of the week is basil. It is a herb that you will want to have around if you do any Italian cooking at all. What would spaghetti sauce be with out basil in it?!? And don't forget one of my personal favorites, basil pesto!
Basil joins the ranks of oregano, marjorum, mint and other kitchen herbs in the mint family. It comes in a variety of colors and 'flavors', but the most common is Sweet Basil. It has a very strong flavor when fresh, but looses flavor when it is dried. You may want to consider freezing it to keep more of the flavor if you are wanting to preserve some for later use.
Basil is a heat loving plant and does not do well in the cold. Either start it indoors early in the spring or direct seed it in the soil after all chance of frost has past, and be sure to harvest it before the temps start dropping below about 40 at night. Plant basil in full sun, but keep it well watered. Even though it is a warm season plant, it wants to keep its toes moist so mulch and water it regularly during dry periods.
Harvest the leaves just as the flowers begin to form for the best flavor. Pinch off the ends and remove all flowers to extend its optimal harvest season. According to the National Gardening Association, you can cut it back so that there only remains two growing points and get a second but smaller harvest.
Our cool, wet spring and early summer has been hard on my basil this year. (I'm sure the tossing in my greenhouse On Memorial Day didn't help either!) I covered them with a plastic jug cloche yesterday and then it turned hot and I had to remove them. Hopefully they'll perk up with this warmer weather.
Did you plant basil this spring? Have you tried any of the less common varieties? What did you think?
Happy Herb Gardening! :)