Basil – How To Grow It and How To Use It!
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) must be one of the most popular herbs and it’s very easy to grow.
How to Grow Basil from Seed
I always grow basil from seed, rather than buying plants, as the seeds germinate very quickly and the plants grow huge! Last year I grew two pots of basil in my kitchen and had enough basil to last all summer and autumn. Lots of the leaves measured over 4”/10cm in length and tasted superb!
Basil can be sown all year round inside, or at this time of year it can be sown outside.
I sow a few seeds in six 3”/7.6cm pots of seed compost – about ¼ “/0.5cm deep. If you don’t have any little plant pots then used yogurt pots are perfect (with a few small holes pierced into the base).
Make sure that the compost is kept moist.
When the plants are growing well, they will need bigger pots. Basil doesn’t like being transplanted, so I fill two large 8”/20cm pots three quarters full with compost. Water the little basil plants and wait for the water to drain, then, very carefully, squeeze the pots to loosen the compost. Slide the basil plants from three pots into one of the larger pots – don’t separate the plants but keep them together (as they were originally). Fill more compost between the three clumps of plants so that the compost is about 1”/2.5cm from the top of the pot. Water evenly then place in their new position.
Basil enjoys a warm and sheltered position and needs watering regularly. I keep my plants by the kitchen window so they get sunshine and warmth – plus they’re just across the room when I need some leaves.
Pick individual leaves as required or if a larger quantity is needed, snip off a few stems with scissors – about three quarters of the way up the plant, and just above a set of leaves.
It is important not to allow the plant to flower as when basil flowers, it stops producing leaves and the remaining leaves will become tough. Snipping off the stems regularly will stop it flowering, or pinch out any small buds as they appear.
I love basil in cooking and one of the most popular uses for basil is pesto sauce.
Pesto sauce is wonderful, and very easy to make
3 oz/75g pine nuts
4 oz/100g grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
2 oz/50g basil leaves
2 peeled cloves of garlic
4 fl oz/100ml olive oil
Blend all the ingredients together in a food processor. Or, chop the pine nuts and basil leaves finely then put in a bowl. Add the parmesan, minced garlic and stir in the olive oil. Store in a sterilized, lidded jar or freeze.
Use the sauce on pasta, bruschetta, pizza, omelettes, chicken, in soups, drizzled over a tomato salad or in sandwiches.
Basil goes wonderfully with tomatoes and one of my favourite ways to serve them is to roast a couple of dozen cherry tomatoes in some rapeseed oil with a little crushed garlic for about 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are soft and slightly blackened. Take out of the oven, add a large handful of fresh basil leaves and stir everything together. The heat from the tomatoes will soften the basil leaves. Drizzle two tablespoons of olive oil and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar over the tomatoes then serve warm or cold.
Besides being used in cooking, basil leaves are supposed to repel mosquitos simply by crushing a leaf and rubbing on the skin.
Sip a cold infusion of the leaves to prevent car sickness and a hot infusion to clear up a cold.
It is thought that basil can help the digestive system.
I use basil in the kitchen regularly and several recipes in my cookbooks use basil, such as …