Basil is a herb in the mint family, grown mainly for its fragrant leaves. It is very easy to grow in almost any climate. Up here in the north basil grows to the size of a small bush, in the south it can get quite large. Basil will grow in almost any well draining, fertile soil with full sun. It does well in the garden and in pots. Planting basil near your tomatoes and peppers will deter unwanted insects. It is also said, if planted next to asparagus it will increase the asparagus productivity.
When planning your garden space, be it the vegetable, flower or herb garden, be mindful of the variety of basil you are going to plant. The wide variety of plants available come in a variety of sizes, requiring different amounts of space and may or may not shade other plants. Most of the flavor from the basil plant comes from the essential oils in the leaves. Too much nitrogen in the soil will cause a decrease in the amount of oil in the plant even though it will grow a beautifully large plant.
To prevent a tall plant that is more stem than leaves you can pinch off the top crown of flowers as they form. By removing the flowers before they are able to make seed you will increase the life of the plant. As with every plant, the goal it produce seed, when the flowers are removed, no seed can be made and the plant will continue to grow. Once it has flowered and the seeds have matured the plant will begin to die.
If you have ever grown basil that has developed brown spots on the leaves and wondered why this happens, I will tell you. It is most commonly caused by cold water hitting the leaves. Having your sprinkler running over the plant, warm leaves-cold water gives you brown spots.
Basil leaves grow in pairs; one on each side of the stem. When harvesting the leaves take them by the pair, this will encourage more growth. When cutting a stem cut just above a leaf pair. The flowers are edible too, both cooked and fresh.
If you do not plan to use the basil fresh it can be stored in the refrigerator for a short while. It will keep a bit longer if it is between a couple damp towels. It can be froze, but I would only do this if you plant to use it in a cooked sauce, soup or something of the sort as it will get pretty soggy as spinach does. Drying basil is the best way to keep your harvest for the winter months. Simply lay the leaves in a food dehydrator, or on a sheet pan in the oven on very low heat until dry. Drying in the sun will change the flavor and can change the essential oils. Once dry, store in an air tight container out of the light and away from extreme temperatures.
Basil has been used medicinally for quite some time too; easing indigestion, chest congestion and bronchitis. The leaves can be rubbed on insect bites and stings to ease itching. Fresh leaves added to a bath will sooth tired muscles.