Ocimum - Kitchen Garden Essential

With Basil then I will begin Whose scent is wondrous pleasing... M. Drayton
Basil (Ocimum basilicum), (Other Names: Sweet Basil)

Tropical Asia, Africa, The Mediterranean
Annual (herbaceous)
Hardiness (see References, below) Zones 10
Bloom - Spring, Summer
Height - 2 ft (60 cm)
Cultivation - Full sun. Light, well drained soils. In colder climates, start Basil indoors, and move pots or transplant outdoors, later, after danger of frost, and cold weather is well behind.
Propagation - By seed; see Propagating ABC - Basil, in April's Contents).
Deliciously aromatic, this popular herb is thought to be indigenous to tropical climates of Asia, and Africa.
Plant's name however, has most likely originated in ancient Greece, where earliest references had been found, in various forms. It derived either from word basilikon (royal), basileus (king), or basilisk, - mythical dragon-like reptile, whose glance, and breath were thought to be lethal.
Noble versus evil; confusion regarding Basil's name, carried on, evoking mixed, and extreme feelings about its properties, too.
One such example may be found in “The English Physician”, book by English botanist, Nicholas Culpeper. This is what he had to say about Basil:
“…it was an Herb of Mars, and under the Scorpion, and perhaps therfore called Basilicon, and then no mervail if it carry a kind of virulent quality with it: Being applied to the place bitten by a venemous Beast, or stung by a Wasp or Hornet, it speedily draws the Poyson to it; Every like draws his like. Myzaldus affirms, That it being laid to rot in Horsdung it wil breed Venemous Beasts. And Hollerius a French Physitian affirms upon his own knowledge, That an acquaintance of his by common smelling to it, had a Scorpion bred in his Brain. Somthing is the matter this Herb and Rue wil not grow together, no nor near one another: And we know Rue is as great an enemy to Poyson as any grows…
Nonetheless, (luckily!) a more positive, overall, attitude towards Basil prevailed in the long run.
In the Hindu tradition of India, Tulsi, local name for Basil, implies it is impossible to match. It is being planted around households, temples, and other sacred places, to protect them from evil spirits.
Worshippers of Vishnu favor Basil leaf as it’s believed to please him most.
By saying “the smell thereof is so excellent that it is fit for a king's house”, English botanist John Parkinson has probably brought a most popular association with Basil to one's mind, - that of “a noble herb, - Queen of Herbs, as Italians like to call it. And since food, and love go hand in hand, let’s reflect on words of Sir Thomas More: "A man taking basil from a woman will love her always."-eloquent, and nice way to think of this great plant.
East or West, Basil’s best recognized quality these days happens to be in the area of culinary arts. Simple in appearance, Basil's leaves, and blooms transform ordinary foods into masterpiece salads, dressings, sauces, making it one of the most popular culinary herbs, universally.
Nutritionally speaking, Basil contains calcium, dietary fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, B6 and C, and it's got no saturated fat, no sodium, and no cholesterol, which makes it desirable in any diet.
Basil is well recognized as an effective companion plant in the garden.
It repels aphids, asparagus beetle, milkweed bugs, flies, mosquitoes, tomato horn worm, and mites.
Gardeners particularly like growing Basil between tomato plants. However, peppers, asparagus, oregano, petunias, marigolds, and yarrow will also benefit from its close proximity, resulting in vigorous growth, and better yield.
Ocimum basilicum makes a good companion to us, humans, too. Planted around our homes, it will help keep mosquitoes and flies at bay. In addition, its leaves come handy after stings, and bites have already occurred, - just rub them on affected areas to relieve discomfort.
Basil's essential oils are used commercially to flavor food products. Aroma therapists use it to relax, and relieve stress, anxiety, headaches, and to help ease respiratory tracts in cases of asthma, bronchitis or sinus infections.
Many cosmetics such as perfumes, soaps, but also insect repellents, and dental products use Basil's oils.
Basil’s usefulness in medicine, both traditional, and contemporary is also well established.
It is useful in lowering sugar blood levels, relieving inflammation, fever and pain. Though not suitable to be described as a male contraceptive, -as a precaution, it is worth noticing that Basil can actually lower sperm count level.
Parts used: Leaves, flowers, seeds, soft stems
Both, fresh and dry parts have popular application in the kitchen. They are best used as complimentary ingredients, and not substitutes, due to different appearance, fragrance, and taste they have.
Generally speaking, use dry Basil cooking sauces, soups, stocks, etc., for more pronounced, and deeper flavor.
For beautiful appearance, fragrance, and delicate taste, fresh Basil, added as a last minute garnish in cooked soups, stews, sauces, or fresh salads, and garnishes, works best.
Please note, fresh Basil (unless blanched, and refreshed in icy cold water first) will go dark, and unattractive, during cooking. It will also react with air, and go dark shortly after it's cut, bruised or crushed. Be gentle on your Basil! Spin it, not squeeze it, after rinsing. Use whole, not chopped, leaves to garnish salads and other dishes, they will stay fresher, longer, and look much more appealing.
When making Pesto mix your cut & crushed Basil leaves with Olive oil, PRESTO!
There are several good ways to preserve Basil for later use.
Wash twigs, detach, and spin the leaves. Then:
-Dehydrate or
-Microvawe. Place the leaves between two layers of paper towels, microwave for approx. 30 seconds, then remove top towel to enable access moisture to escape for a few seconds, if needed, repeat the process till crispy or
-Dry them traditional way. Make a spacious, muslin bag, put Basil leaves inside, tie it, and hang it in a dry, and airy spot. Shake the leaves often to enable better air circulation.
Easiest, just process the leaves in food processor till smooth, mix with Olive oil, make Basil ice cubes, then transfer to a freezer bag for later use.
Final Note
Although Basil is extremely frost tender, it does really well grown indoors, in pots, close to sunny, and warm spots.
Back to April - CONTENTS page
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References - Find more about: Hardiness Zones
Special Thanks
Special Thanks to Town & Country Gardens Contributors: blogger, dive-angel (Karin), flickr, Jasmine&Roses, Joan Amy, Rita Crane Photography. Rita Crane, daughter of LIFE magazine photographer Ralph Crane. Her work can be seen on Flickr at Rita Crane Photography or on her website., TMR Davies, W.D. Williams

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