Unearthing the basil plant, it’s uses, benefits, and a recipe to boot!
This tender plant is originally from several areas of the tropical world including central Africa and Southeast Asia. This herb is very popular in the culinary world, but why? Most likely, the answer is in the taste. Basil is sweet yet savory, widely loved around the world but especially in Italy! This herb may also be favored for its health benefits. Basil has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-aging properties! All of which sounds good to me!
The basil plant can be finicky and even high maintenance. Basil requires a warm environment and thrives in temperatures in the 80 degrees and 90 degrees Fahrenheit range. Basil also requires a lot of sunlight, close to 8 hours, and needs to be thoroughly watered when the top layer of soil is dry. The soil should be well-drained to avoid drowning the plant’s roots.
Planting basil is one of the least finicky things about this plant. It can be planted in the ground but not until 2 weeks after the last frost in spring. It can also be planted in a garden, or in a pot in your house. Basil plants will greatly benefit from burying compost into the soil. The composted food will disintegrate and serve as plant food. You should only need to plant 2-3 plants for personal use and you should make sure to keep the stems pinched to prevent the plant from flowering or seeding and it will ensure continuous leaf production.
Harvesting your basil plant is easy. Simply pinch off the leaves with your fingers or use pruning shears to trim the leaves off. Do not begin to harvest your plant until it reaches 6-8 inches tall.
Uses for Basil
Basil leaves can be frozen to preserve them. They simply need to be thawed back to room temperature before use. The leaves can also be dried and broken up into flakes to add to several recipes. However, dried basil leaves do not retain as much of their natural flavor as fresh leaves do. One of my favorite uses for basil leaves is making pesto (recipe listed below)!
A use for basil that may surprise you is aromatherapy! The essential oil made from basil is often used as a relaxant in the aromatherapy world. Its natural calming scent can be added to oil diffusers and candles to help relieve tension in a room.
Another surprising fact is that sweet basil is commonly called St. John’s Wart. This is an herb commonly found in the vitamin aisle in many pharmacies around the country. It is mostly used to improve a person’s mood as well as being an antioxidant, antimicrobial and antiviral!
Recipe for Fresh Basil Pesto (thanks to www.simplyrecipes.com)
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (can sub half the basil leaves with baby spinach)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (about 2 ounces)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup pine nuts (can sub chopped walnuts)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 teaspoons)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
- Pulse basil and pine nuts in a food processor: Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times.
- Add garlic and cheese: Add garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.
- Stream in the olive oil: While the food processor is running, slowly add the oil in a steady small stream. Adding the olive oil slowly, while the processor is running, will help it emulsify and help keep the olive oil from separating. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor.
- Stir in salt and freshly ground black pepper, add more to taste.