Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil is a popular herb with more than 16 different varieties. The most common variety is sweet or Genovese basil (Ocimum basilicum). Basil is often referred to as the King of Herbs as Basilicum translates to ‘kingly herb’ in Greek.
For Thai or Southeast Asian cooking Thai Basil is used, often referred to as Horapha and has an anise flavour.
The complex and slightly sweet flavour with beautiful aroma has made basil one of the most used culinary herbs. During the 19th century, basil fell out of fashion and was considered to have little or no importance until the 1960’s when foreign cooking and the gourmet revolution came into vogue.
Fresh basil has an initial subtle peppery flavour. The taste then evolves into a slightly sweet anise flavour.
When cooking with basil it should be added at the end of cooking. Heat removes the flavour and if cooked for too long can result in bitterness.
Basil has a strong, pungent, sweet and somewhat menthol aroma.
Basil pairs exquisitely with lemon, tomato and garlic. Sweet Basil is an essential ingredient in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. Sweet basil marries beautifully with olive oil, oregano, thyme, garlic, onions, tomatoes, chilli, chicken, pasta, eggs, zucchini, capsicum, bell peppers, pizza and green leafy salads.
Thai basil is often referred to as licorice basil for the strong anise flavour it offers.
Thai basil is more robust than sweet basil so can be cooked for longer periods of time without losing flavour. This makes Thai basil perfect for soups, stir-fries and curries.
Slightly cinnamon scented, similarly smelling to cloves. Thai basil's scent is not as pungent as sweet basil.
The oil from Thai basil compliments the taste of pork well. It is very popular in many Asian dishes and adds the essential flavour to Thai curries and stir-fries that is hard to replicate with any other herb.
The flavour of the basil is directly affected by its growing conditions. You can propagate basil by seeds and by cuttings (best taken during spring and winter). To encourage bushiness of the plant, flowers should continually removed.
In Australia is best to plant when the soil is warm in late spring with harvesting expected to be from early December until mid-May. Basil does not survive well in cool weather so harvest all leaves by April.
Minimum temperature for growing has to be above 13 Degrees Celsius for germination. Basil likes a warm temperature with sun exposure and as such, a good window sill kitchen pot plant is ideal. In a warmer climate basil may grow in winter and can become a biennial plant.
Ensure that the location of your basil plant yields 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. When the plant has its first 6 or so leaves, prune above the second set to encourage growth. When using leaves it is best to remove the leaves as you need them.
In gardens basil is a good companion to other plants and repels white fly and aphids. It has a particular affinity to tomatoes in pots and also on plate.
Basil is originally native to Iran, India and other tropical regions of Asia, having been cultivated there for more than 5,000 years.
Folklore was that if you wanted to grow fragrant, strong basil than you should shout and swear when sowing your seeds. It was also said that if a man gave a sprig of basil to a woman she was sure to fall for him. In Haiti, shopkeepers will sprinkle basil around their shops to ward off evil. Europeans claimed that the basil would wilt if anyone with an impure heart touched it.
Herbal uses for basil include easing the pain in childbirth as well as easing a variety of ailments including headaches, indigestions, bad breath, joint pain, fatigue and strengthening the brain. If you have a cold or flu try having a strong basil tea with some lemon juice, a little honey and a pinch of cinnamon and cloves. A great tip if you’ve got a headache starting is to get some basil and rub it into your temples. Consuming fresh basil which has high amount of vitamins A and C can be considered a cancer fighter. Various cultures consider basil to help as a natural resistant to stress and disease and also to strengthen the immune system. Basil can be used as a hair conditioning rinse and scalp tonic by rinsing basil tea through your hair after shampooing.
Facts About Basil
When basil leaves are brushed against or rubbed they let off a strong-clove or anise-like aroma. Fresh basil should not be refrigerated; it can cause the leaves to develop brown spots.
What to do if Thai or Sweet basil is not available?
While both Thai and sweet basil do have their own flavour they can be interchanged with each other. While the flavour will change slightly in the dish, their flavours do complement each other so will not imbalance a dish.
Can I still use my basil once it turns brown?
You can still use slightly browned basil as long as it still holds its fragrance and isn’t slimy or mildewy. You’ll find putting fresh basil in the fridge will cause it to brown.
What should I do when my basil plant starts to flower?
When flowers start appearing on your plant pluck them off as soon as you see them. This will promote further growth.
How long should my basil plant last?
Basil is generally an annual plant meaning that a new one should be planted every season. In warmer more tropical climates it can become a biennial plant so will last through winter and into the next year.
How to keep basil fresh?
It is best to keep basil in a glass of water in a cool, dry and dark spot though not in the refrigerator.