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Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil conjures up wonderful images of summer brunches, sipping on wine and dining on bruschetta spread with pesto, salads drizzled with basil dressing, and tomato, basil and rocket pizzas.
Basil is an annual that grows to 50cm with bright green, strongly aromatic, oval-shaped leaves and green bracts with white flowers that grow in tapering spikes at the top of the plant. It has a warm clove-like scent and flavour. Plant basil in the full sun, in a well-drained soil, and liquid feed regularly. Nip the flowers back to promote leaf growth. Most basils are frost tender annuals, and are prone to leaf spot in cold weather, so don’t be tempted to plant basil until the nights are consistently above 10°C in mid-spring. Basil is easy to grow from seed, and if some seed heads are left on, they will self-sow throughout the garden.
Basil is commonly used fresh in cooked recipes and is generally added at the last moment, as cooking quickly destroys the flavour. The leaves are best torn, not cut. They can be added fresh to salads and dips, and used in sauces, curries, and pizza and pasta dishes. It is the main ingredient in pesto, a green Italian oil and herb sauce.
The leaves make a fragrant tea that is drunk to treat coughs, aid digestion, ease a headache and reduce tension to help sleep. Rub fresh leaves on stings and bites to reduce pain and inflammation. Basil also repels pests like flies and mosquitoes if grown in pots near doorways and windows.
Basil can be kept for a short time in the refrigerator, either in a plastic bag or jar of water. It can also be preserved in vinegars and oils, or frozen for use in casseroles and stews.
Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. purpurascens)
Purple basil resembles sweet basil except that it has attractive purple leaves and pink flowers. The flavour is stronger and less sweet. Purple basil is ideal for adding colour and taste in almost any dish including seafood, chicken, pasta, soups and salads.
Lemon Basil (Ocimum basilicum var. citriodorum)
Lemon basil is a half hardy annual, growing to 30cm tall, with soft yellowish green, lemon scented foliage. The leaves are similar to basil leaves but tend to be narrower. Lemon basil produces white flowers in late summer to early autumn. It is more difficult to maintain but worth the effort.
Both the flowers and leaves have a lemon scent and flavour that enhances many dishes. Lemon basil is one of several types of basil used in Thai cuisine. It features in curries and noodle dishes, and the seeds are soaked in water and used in sweet desserts. Lemon basil can also be used in soups, salads, chilli sauces and fish dishes.
Thai Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Thai basil is a popular variety of basil with a spicy aniseed flavour and aroma. It is used as a condiment in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.
Thai basil is usually used fresh, preferably soon after
harvesting, but you can also chop it up or run it through a
food processor and freeze in ice cube trays. Once frozen,
remove from the tray and store in resealable bags in the freezer for up to two months.
Thai basil may also be used as an aromatherapy treatment by bruising the leaves and inhaling their aroma. Thai basil can also be bruised and rubbed beneath the eyes and on the forehead for a relaxing reprieve from a long stressful day.
Handle the plants carefully, as they are quite delicate. Plant the new basil in a sunny area, water in and fertilise with a nutrient rich solution two to three times during their active growing season. Water weekly but keep the water off the leaves; water from the base. Over-watering will cause the leaves to yellow and drop and under-watering will make flowers and buds suffer, so it is important to attain a balance. Pinch out the top leaves to promote bushy growth. Sun is a key ingredient. Thai basil plants need at least six hours of direct sunlight to flourish.
Use Thai basil fresh in recipes. It is also ideal for garnishing or flavouring salads. Thai basil holds its flavour better when cooked.
Holy basil is closely related to culinary basil. It is known as Tulsi in South Asia and is an important sacred plant in Hinduism. Growing a sacred basil plant in your yard is regarded by many Hindus as an essential step to religious and physical wellbeing.
The essential oil from Holy basil contains eugenol, which has excellent antiseptic and disinfectant activity. It can kill bacteria, reduce inflammation and deter insects. Its benefits include helping to treat skin infections, reduce stress, control headaches, coughs and colds, and beneficial in treating asthma.
It is widely known across the Indian subcontinent as a medicinal plant and an herbal tea. It is commonly used in Ayurveda for its diverse healing properties.
Holy basil is a small annual plant with olive/purple leaves with serrated edges, growing to about 30cm. The stems are deep purple and the flowers are mauve/pink. It is adaptable to most well- drained soils in a protected sunny position, provided it has an adequate amount of water.
Perennial Basil (Ocimum gratissimum)
Perennial basil, also known as clove basil, tree basil and East India basil, has aromatic clove scented green leaves and grows up to two metres in height. The flowers range from white through to dark mauve. It is an insect repellent perennial that contains eugenol, which gives it the clove smell.
It is a quick growing herb that likes fertile moist
soil, and produces masses of flowers over
summer, that attracts bees to the garden.
Perennial basil thrives in full sun, in a well-
drained soil. Fertilise regularly. Will grow in
any herb garden or in large pots and will
survive most mild winters but not severe or sudden cold snaps. gets too large.
Prune back in late summer if bush
Perennial basil can be harvested all year round. Leaves are best used when fresh, and they can be chopped or just torn and added to the dishes. Add towards the end of preparing the dish. The leaves can be used to flavour tomato, meat, poultry and vegetables, and are used in sauces, soups, stir fried dishes, sautés, chicken and meat dishes. The leaves are a good substitute for sweet basil in winter.