Now that the weather is getting warmer, it is time to grow some basil. First of all I’ll tell you a little about the history of basil.
Basil is native to India and although cultivated for thousands of years, it was only introduced to Europe in the 16th century.
It has always been associated with religious and magic rites. In India, families hung it around the home for protection and French revolution doctors advocated it for cheering the spirit and clearing the mind.
Basil belongs to the family lamiaceae ( the same family as mint, thyme and lavender) and is both a sedative and antiseptic.
It aids digestion and is a companion plant to tomatoes. Keep it in a pot in the kitchen and it is said to repel flies.
There are lots of different varieties of basil such as sweet, cinnamon, lemon, purple and sacred basil.
Basil is very tender and needs to be planted in a warm sunny corner or window sill. I always leave mine on the kitchen window for warmth and I just love the smell.It will grow quite happy here. It likes well drained and rich soil.
Grow from seed in early spring indoors. Alternatively sow them directly into the ground at the end of the season when all frosts have gone. Basil does not transplant very well.
Always water at midday as it does not like to be wet at night and it is very prone to damping off.
In Summer pinch out young plants and pick the leaves as this will promote new growth and bushier plants. It will also stop the plant from flowering. If you like you can leave one to flower to collect seeds in autumn.
Always pick the leaves from the top to encourage new growth. If storing my advice is to freeze rather than dry as they are very difficult to dry successfully. If freezing, first paint both sides with oil to seal in the flavour and stop them sticking together.
There are lots of ways to use basil. Here are a few tips and a recipe for basil pesto.
Basil increases its flavour when cooked. Add at the end of cooking for best results.
Combine sweet basil with breadcrumbs, nuts, garlic, lemon peel and egg to make a lovely stuffing,
Use lemon basil with fish.
Basil pesto. (for 4)
1 tablespoon pine nuts
4 tablespoons of chopped basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic
75g parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons of sunflower or olive oil. (not virgin)
1 Blend the garlic, pine nuts and basil together until smooth.
2 Add the oil slowly and blend the mixture until you have a thick paste.
3 Season with salt
4 Stir the paste into the pasta and sprinkle with cheese.
The pesto will keep in the fridge for at least a week. If you want to freeze it, remember to wrap the container in 2 sheets of polyethylene to stop the aroma escaping. this goes for all herbal mixtures.
Now all you have to do is enjoy,
Till next time Adiós