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Rewarding Basil

Basil has a wide distribution, occurring in tropical Asia, Africa and the Pacific islands.

Basil is an annual with an upright branching habit of growth and glossy, toothed oblong leave, it grows to a height of 30-45cm with the same spread.

Basil germinates easily from seeds and these can be sown in trays in August and kept protected until all danger of frost is past. Once the seedlings reach the four‑leaf stage they can be transplanted easily into well-drained fairly rich soil. Place them 50 cm apart and keep them shaded for a day or two. If planted in situ, sow seeds in early summer when the danger of frost is past. Newly planted out seedlings do well with a little extra compost to keep the roots cool. They also need to be watered regularly to ensure lush succu­lent growth. Basil makes an easy pot‑plant for a sunny window‑sill in winter.

Sweet basil (Ocimum basilium) is the herb most popular for culinary purposes, but another type, dark opal, is fast becoming a favourite in the garden as it is decorative and can be used as a substitute for ordinary basil in cooking.

Use basil leaves sparingly in soups (especially tomato soup), salads, omelettes, meat dishes and sausages.

 

Basil must be one of the best herbs to grow, as it has so many uses.

Basil must be one of the best herbs to grow, as it has so many uses.

 Bunches hung in the kitchen will keep flies away, while dried stalks burnt on an evening fire in winter keep mosquitoes at bay. It also has a medicinal use: for clear­ing mouth infections it can be used as a gargle — 6 leaves to 250 ml (1 cup) boiling water. Crushed, pounded leaves are said to stimulate hair growth if massaged well into the scalp.

 

Basil dries easily. Wait until the winter frost is almost due (basil is susceptible to frost damage) and then pull up the whole plant and dry it on a rack in the shade. Then strip the crumbling leaves from the stems and store them for kitchen use. The seed‑heads are ideal for potpourris as they give off a lovely clove‑scent.

Basil vinegar is useful to have on hand for salads. Allow 250g of leaves to 2 litres of white wine vinegar. Wash the leaves, put them in a bowl, cover with vinegar and leave for two weeks, then strain and bottle.

Another way to store basil is to pack it into bottles and cover with olive oil. It keeps indefinitely and makes a delicious flavour filled salad dressing.