04 March 2010

Basil Basil Basil

While some plants remain old fashioned, basil keeps moving ahead with the times. There are now over 60-types on the seed and plant market to choose from.

Some have large leaves and are used in place of lettuce for a modern twist on low-carb wraps. As an addition to herb and flower beds, basil has something for everyone – tall, dwarf, bush shaped, columnar, anise, citrus flavored, spicy hot for Thai cuisine, sacred, African Blue, ruffled, red, and variegated.

They are all Ocimum genus in the Lamiaceae or mint family, native to hot dry areas such as Africa and Italy. Give them full sun and a little water.

The Dallas Arboretum named Basil Pesto Perpetuo and Basil Boxwood plants of the month for March.

Last summer I grew a 3-inch pot of Perpetuo in a 5-gallon container where it grew 3-feet tall. The pale green, cream lined leaves have a fresh pesto scent. Boxwood grows to form a 12-inch tall globe.

Gardeners preserve basil by drying it or making it into pesto that is frozen to bring summer’s flavor into the dull days of winter. Basil teas are known for curing after dinner ailments.

Basil plants will be available in April. To grow from seed, sow seeds indoors now in moist sterile germinating mix. Plant one-half inch apart in a 70-degree room. Move plants into full sun or 16-hours of artificial light when they emerge. Fertilize sparingly. Pinch frequently.

Tomatoes Garlic Basil, a new book by Doug Oster devotes 25-pages to this beautifully scented herb. Oster says basil was used to preserve mummies in ancient Egypt. For the living it is said to relieve stress, improve circulation and make your skin beautiful. (St. Lynn's Press)

The recipes in Oster’s book include Goat Cheese and Pesto Puff Pastry, Spicy Basil Chicken, Pesto and Easy Baked Basil Fries. He takes stem cuttings from his garden plants in the fall and keeps them growing in the basement all winter under 24-hour lights.

Basil varieties

African blue ornamental or dark opal basil– seeds will not grow identical new plants
Have purple leaves that become green as lavender flowers appear. Grow Osmin Purple for sweet addition to salads.

Dwarf bouquet, dwarf bush fine leaf, dwarf green globe and piccolo - Plenty of basil flavor for front of the border or pots and window boxes

Genovese Italiano Classico, Sweet Italian Large Leaf - All-purpose clove-scented type for large production

Holy basil, sacred basil, Tulsi, is known for medicinal benefits. Pink-purple flowers, leaves are light green, clove flavored

Fine Verde - Greek basil with mouse ears, slightly hot

Lettuce leaf or green ruffles has large crinkled leaves with mild flavor for wraps. Mammoth has the largest leaves.

Nufar and Mozzarella are a Genovese varieties with resistance to fusarium wilt

Persian anise - Spicy licorice flavor for sausage and bean dishes

Pistou forms a round, 6-inch tall plant for the sidewalk or the outside of a pot

Violetto Dark Opal - An edible purple-leaf ornamental to add to salads. Red Rubin is used for flavored oil and vinegar – easy to start from seed.

Lemon and lime – great flavor for seafood, sauces, and vinegar

Cinnamon- Used in Thai and Asian cooking

Thai – Purple flowers on green leaves. Pretty enough to use as a garnish

Gourmet Seed, 585-398-6111, gourmetseed.com, discount code GSD10

LeJardin du Gourmet 35-cent seed packs, 800-659-1446, artisticgardens.com -Combination pack has a mix of all basils in their catalog

Johnny’s, 877-564-6697, johnnyseeds.com - Bouquet Mix includes lemon, Thai, cinnamon, and purple

Renee’s Garden, 888-880-7228, reneesgarden.com - Scented Basil Trio has Cinnamon, Red Rubin and Mrs. Burns citrus for butterfly and flower garden

Thompson & Morgan, 800-274-7333, Thompson-morgan.com - Basil Collection has Cinnamon, Bush, Lemon, Sweet, Thai

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