Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an annual that has very fragrant leafy stems. It can grow up to 2′ tall and flowers from July to August. It is native to India, Africa and Asia. In France it’s called herb royals. In Italy, basil has been and still is a sign of love. Some believed that when a man gives a woman a sprig of basil, she will fall in love with him and never leave him.
Basil grows quite easily from seed. Sow it outdoors when all danger of frost has passed and when the soil is at least 50 degrees F. Plant the seeds 1/8″ deep. When they begin to sprout, thin out the weakest plants so you leave plants about 1′ apart. For faster germination, start seed indoors as basil seeds germinate quickly in soil that is 75 to 85 degrees F. Basil prefers full sun and well-drained, rich soil. It grows best in soil with well rotted organic matter is mixed into the soil before planting.
If you start the seeds indoors, use a seed starting potting mix. After seeds are planted, cover the container with clear plastic to help keep in moisture? When the basil leaves are open, remove plastic to allow for ventilation. This helps prevent a fungal disease called damping off.
About a week after germination, the seedlings can be transplanted to larger containers or flats until all danger of frost has passed and the basil can be planted outdoors. After the seedlings become established and soil is warm, mulch well to help keep soil moist and discourage weeds. To encourage the plant to become thick and bushy, cut the main stem from the top, leaving at least one node with two young shoots. After that, cut the branches every two or three weeks. Use the leaves fresh, or store them for later use. Be sure to pinch off any flower buds that may form to prolong the life of the plant.
Basil is a great companion plant for both peppers and tomatoes because it makes the plants grow healthier and larger.
All parts of basil can be eaten. It has a rich spicy, mildly peppery flavor with a hint of mint and clove. Fresh leaves always have better flavor then leaves that have been dried or frozen. Use it raw or cooked. Add them to recipes and salads. Sprigs of fresh basil make a nice garnish and the flowers are edible and make a unique garnish as well.