Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a culinary herb from the family Lamiaceae. Originally native to India where it is cultivated for thousands of years. Basil is a wild plant now in the Mediterranean and used mainly in Italian cuisine, salads, sandwiches. The Italian tomato dishes being so popular here in the UK it is a must to grow some basil together with your tomatoes.
Sowing the seeds
If you want to grow the herbs on your windowsill the best time is to sow is from March all the way till August.
If you planning to transplant the plants outside later on or if you will grow the basil in an unheated greenhouse then wait until late April or even as late as July. I have tried to sow inside in April but the seeds were slow to germinate and basil really needs higher temperatures. And planting them outside is not even possible some years as the weather is cold and windy, which the plants do not like.
Growing basil is the best to do indoors, under glass even during the summer period as the plants need at least 20 Celsius to grow well and even higher to grow really bushy.
Sow the basil seeds into small, about 7 cm, pots or a seed tray or into bigger pots if you do not want to transplant them later on; 0.5cm deep. Keep the compost moist by watering from underneath, so the tiny seeds and seedlings will not be disturbed. Keep them at a temperature of 15 Celsius and above.
Transplanting the basil seedlings
When the plants are large enough to handle, 3-4 inches tall, you can prick them out carefully and transplant them into bigger pots, or why not try to plant them in a nice windowbox. Creating a herb windowbox will add a nice scent and a useful feature to your patio area.
Growing basil successfully require plenty of sunshine and warmth. If you plant the basil outside make sure that you choose the sunniest location in your garden. The plants like a bit of dry condition and lots of sunshine. This will help to bring out the best flavour possible from your basil plants.
Place them around the tomato plants is a common practice by many gardener. Leave about 10cm between the plants, so they have plenty of space to mature.
If the plants wilted from lack of water they will recover fairly quickly when watered properly. Make sure that the leaves do not get much water as water on the leaves can encourage fungal diseases to appear on the plants.
The best practice is in my opinion to grow your basil in pots or in containers all year around. If you are growing basil the first time it can be challenging to transplant the seedlings, so I would advice to sow the seeds in small – medium sized pots and leave the basil growing in there all season long. This will help you to have better success with our first attempt and it is best for the plants as well if they are not disturbed. If you have too many seedlings appearing in the pot just pinch them out so that the rest of the plants have enough space to mature.
You can start using the leaves quite early, gently pinch the biggest leaves when the plants are about 15cm tall. Do not cut the whole stem as this will stop the plants. When the plants grow to 20-30cm tall you can pinch out the growing tip to encourage them to grow more bushy. Remove any flowers as they appear, this will help the plants to concentrate their energy on producing more delicious leaves.
The different blend of essentials oils (most important is the eugenol in the sweet basil) are responsible for the different taste of the many basil varieties. The most common Mediterranean variety is the Sweet Genovese or Italian Classic Basil.
Most of us enjoy the basil in tomato based Italian dishes. Add the fresh leaves only at the last moment as the cooking will destroy the flavour of the basil. The dried basil looses most of its flavour too, if you want to store basil leaves your best choice is freezing. Just place a bunch of leaves into a small plastic bag and pop it into the freezer.
If you have a sunny windowsill or a heated greenhouse you can enjoy this lovely culinary plant, called by many as the king of herbs, from March to October.
It is very common to dry the leaves. Just place them on a kitchen paper or kitchen towel and put them on the windowsill. They will dry out in a few days and the paper will help to absorb the water from the leaves. It is thought that the dried herbs do lose lots of key oils if you dry them, and I think it is true as the dried herbs are not as flavourful as the fresh ones. To preserve the flavour and all the essential oils in the basil leaves it is the best to freeze them. Just pop them into a plastic zip bag and put them into the freezer.
My favourite method to store this herb is to infuse the leaves with olive oil. Extra virgin olive oil is my favourite but it can be pricey so just use medium strength olive oil, it is just as fine. Pour the olive oil onto the basil leaves, just as much so that the oil covers the leaves, put it in your food processor and mix it up. Pour the mixture into ice cube tray and when it freezes take the cubes out and put hem into a plastic bag. This will keep in the freezer for about a year. This is the most clever basil storing method, having oil infused basil in the freezer. Just pop the cubes in your favourite dish! Love it.