Summer is finally here. I hope you are enjoying the heat just like the hot crops are in your garden. Since spring those crops have been barely surviving, just waiting for the real heat of summer. My basil is finally beginning to flourish with the increase in temperature. Basil is one of the most popular and widely-used herb worldwide. It is used raw, in sauces, as pesto and even in desserts.
Basil is a member of the mint family and is known as Ocimum spp. There are many different types of basil you can grow from purple to green to sweet to spicy. It is great to use in the kitchen but also it is ornamental. Purple Ruffle makes beautiful salad vinegar that is lovely on fresh garden tomatoes. Thai basil is a bit spicier and fabulous in curry dishes.
Basil is native to the region surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It thrives in full sunlight but does not like to get soggy feet. If it begins to form flowers, simply pinch it back to encourage more leaf growth. Unfortunately, slugs love basil – especially when it is young and tender. Another common pest that loves basil is aphids. However, they are easily controlled using a spray of water.
Basil has had a long and interesting history. It was used as an embalming and preserving herb in ancient Egypt. In Greece, it was a symbol of mourning and was commonly known as a royal or kingly herb. In England, basil was used to ward off insects and evil spirits. In Italy, basil was a symbol of love and placing a pot of basil on the balcony meant that a woman was ready for her suitor to arrive. In other cultures, it has even been considered as a aphrodisiac.
Basil also has medicinal uses. Dioscorides, a Greek physician prescribed basil for headaches. Contemporaries of Pliny fed basil to horses during the breeding season. It has been used as a sedative, an expectorant and a laxative. Today, it is used to cheer the heart and mind and relieve sorrow.
In the kitchen basil works with so many dishes. It is lovely with fish – especially lemon basil. I like using it to fill the cavity of a whole fish along with lemon slices. Fresh basil chopped on the top of pizza, pasta or any Italian sauce is rather heavenly. Grilled vegetables on the barbecue taste exquisite with fresh chopped basil and a bit of olive oil. In a fresh garden salad, bits of basil are tasty. The culinary use of basil is endless.
It is a great addition to a sachet. The scent is not overwhelming but almost sweet. Freshly dried leaves in a potpourri lend a distinctive pleasant scent. It can even make your hair shiny and fresh smelling. Simply place a sprig of basil in a cup of boiling water, let it cool and rinse clean hair for a fresh look.
So, you can see that basil is an herb you should not live without, especially when the heat of summer finally arrives. Simply start it about six weeks before you will want to be harvesting and have a great time using it in a variety of ways.
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