If you're like me, you like growing herbs that you don't need to fuss and fret over. And that's precisely why you should learn how to grow basil (Ocimum basilicum). It's a prolific, no-fuss herb that smells wonderful, is easy to use, and has myriad delicious uses.
In general, there are two main cultivars of basil: sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum) and purple basil (Ocimum purpurascens). Sweet basil is the variety most people are familiar with (having a stronger flavor and being more commonly grown), while the purple variety is more often used decoratively or in flower gardens (having a milder flavor and more distinct look). But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other basil cultivars to choose from. In fact, there are well over 100!
As an annual herb that must be planted every year, basil can be grown from seed or from store-bought seedlings. Either way works just fine (as it's a forgiving herb) but when planting your basil, remember:
- There are many different cultivars of basil available (like lemon, purple, red, sweet, Thai and many, many more!). So check out a good seed catalog to match your cooking interests with the cultivar of basil that's right for you.
- Sow your basil seeds in spring, at a depth of about 1cm to 1/2in.
- Plant in full sun, with rich, well-drained soil.
- Start seed indoors or wait until after the last frost as it can be cold sensitive.
Want to grow a steady crop of this delicious herb? Once your basil seedlings are all grown up, remember to:
- Prune and pinch off flowers mercilessly. Basil is a prolific grower and will quickly go to seed if you're not watchful.
- Water well and try not to crowd. Basil likes good air circulation.
- Provide occasional shade if in particularly hot climes.
- Protect from slugs and snails (since they like all that water too).
Harvesting Your Basil
Basil's a breeze to use. When you're ready to harvest this aromatic herb (and you should be able to all summer long), note the following:
- Basil is best fresh but it can also be frozen or dried. To use fresh, just snip and cut as needed. To freeze or dry, separate whole leaves and do your thing. Ta da!
- Red and purple cultivars are particularly well-suited for bouquets and pretty homemade vinegars.
Basil can be added to just about anything that has tomatoes or mozzarella cheese. It's amazing! (Hint: Put it on a burger, layering it with cheese and fresh garden tomatoes.)
For growing specifications for growing basil (like preferred soil pH, planting depths and germination rates), check out the Gardening Guides page.
(Images graciously supplied by michaelaw, topfer and epidemya. Thanks!)