Basil, Basil, Basil

 

BasilBasil is one herb that I love for it’s wide variety and the endless options for using it. There are over 150 named varieties!

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.

Tomato Basil Soup with Chevre Goat Cheese
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Tomato Basil Soup with Chevre Goat Cheese
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Ingredients
  • 2 lb Fresh Tomatoes diced
  • 2 quart Tomato Sauce
  • 1 pint Chicken Stock
  • 1/2 cup White Wine
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Garlic minced
  • 1 each Yellow Onion finely chopped
  • 2 each Carrots finely chopped
  • 2 each Celery Stocks finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup Fresh Basil chopped
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Chevre goat cheese
Servings:
Instructions
  1. In a stock pot, sauté the garlic, onion, carrot, and celery in the olive oil. Allow the garlic to brown lightly.
  2. Add the wine, then the chicken stock, tomatoes, sauce and basil.
  3. Allow this to simmer for an hour, stirring frequently.
  4. Serve with a spoonful of goat cheese in each bowl.
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Herbs & Spice & Everything Nice

Do you know the diference between herbs and spices? They seem to be one in the same and right? Well, kinda… A spice is defined as always dried parts of the aromatic plants- root, stem, bark, leaf, seed and flower. Spices are generally a tropically grown plant. Herbs on the other hand are grown in cooler climates and can be used fresh or dried.

Living in the north makes it rather difficult to grown the tropical spices that I would like. For now I settle for trying my best indoors, which hasn’t worked the best either. I’ve been trying to get my cardamom to go for a while now. Our house is too cold. I even keep the little guy by the wood stove! I still have hope though. Someday I will have my “Little Mexico” (my year round, tropical greenhouse). Until then we can talk herbs…

The variety of herbs is absolutely amazing. There are a million different varieties and each with their own flavors, scent and uses. Growing your own herbs is so much fun and can take as much or as little room as you like.

I like everything organized and categorized and this over flows into my gardening sometimes. I have multiple herb beds planned, one for cooking, one for tea and one for healing.

Even though all the plants are herbs they do require different amounts of sun, water and soil, taking care when planning your herb garden will go a long way. This year we have a ton of work to do around here, putting in a new vegetable garden, new fencing, new chicken coop etc.. So all my herbs will be put into one of the beds that is already here. This will give me a chance to see the sun pattern and figure out where the best placement for each bed will be.

I’m working with a two level square bed, that’s  outlined with railroad ties. In the years to come the ties will need to be restacked or removed. For the this year I’m just going to go with. I have planned a few kitchen herbs in this bed and a few in the vegetable garden. The comfrey will be planted elsewhere as I do not want to have to transplant that. Once the herbs are in the ground I will then fill in  with edible flowers and some lettuces too!

Herb garden

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