About Basil

Basil Seeds

Basil is a heat-loving annual plant grown for use as a culinary herb. Many varieties exist, with subtle differences in flavour, growth habit, leaf colour, and so on. All have a rich, pungent taste and scent reminiscent of anise and cloves. This plant has been cultivated for over 5,000 years, originally from India to Persia, but has spread globally. The ancient Greeks knew about basil and its culinary and medicinal properties. Curiously, many ancient Romans believed that basil seeds would not germinate unless without first being cursed.

Though we tend to think of it as an Italian herb, basil is a very common ingredient in the cuisines of Southeast Asia where Thai Basil and Holy Basil are more common, with their undertones of mint and licorice, and slightly more intense flavour. In Pakistan, Holy Basil (O. sanctum) is grown near the entrances of some homes in an effort to keep evil spirits from entering. Several compact varieties of basil have also been bred. These tend to form tidier plants with smaller leaves, but with every bit of flavour.

Field grown basil for seed production
Field grown basil for seed production

The plant owes its aromatic and variable nature to a complex combination of chemicals, expressed uniquely in each variety. Many of the components that distinguish the different varieties of basil are also found in the foods they resemble. For instance, the clove-scented basils contain higher proportions of a chemical called eugenol, which is also found in cloves. Lime basil contains significant quantities of citral, which gives lemon and lime peel its distinctive smell. Anethole is the chemical that gives basil its licorice-like aroma, and anethole is also found in anise, true licorice, and fennel. This game of scents demonstrates one aspect of plant chemistry in plain, easily observed terms. It also offers a worthy and educational challenge for kids.

Kitchen Basil Blend

Regardless of the variety, basil’s rich flavours combine well with acidic fruits, including tomatoes. A simple salad of fresh sliced tomatoes, torn basil leaves, salt, and pepper is a unique and heavenly summer treat. In south Asian cuisines, basil often accompanies acidic lime juice and acrid fish sauce as an intense background, accentuated by chilies and other ingredients. The leaves really should be torn, and not chopped, to preserve the essential oils they contain. Basil is an ingredient to add at the end of cooking, so these oils are not lost among other flavours.

Red Rubin Organic Basil Seeds

Basil will not tolerate frost — it will, in fact, dissolve into a gooey blackened mess if hard frost is allowed to touch its delicate leaves. The best end-of-summer method of preserving large amounts of basil is to combine the leaves with a smaller amount of Italian parsley, crushed garlic, pine nuts, some grated parmesan cheese, and a bit of olive oil: Classic Genovese pesto. This can be bottled for use over winter, and will transform pasta dishes, dips, and salads. It is very easy to make.

Certified Organic Genovese Basil Seeds

How to Grow Basil:

Difficulty: Moderately easy. Basil is well suited to container growing.

Timing: Sow indoors 6-8 weeks before last frost for transplanting in early June, once the soil has warmed. At this time, basil can also be direct sown, as long as the soil is warm.

Sowing: Sow shallowly, 1cm (½”) deep. If sowing indoors, seeds benefit from bottom heat. Basil requires direct sunlight. If you can’t grow from seed indoors in a south facing window, provide supplemental light with fluorescent tubes or grow lamps to prevent leggy, weak seedlings. Aim for numerous thinned plants to grow about 30cm (12”) apart in the row. This allows room for the plants to become vigorous and bushy. For dwarf types, 15-20cm (6-8”) should suffice.

Soil: Well drained, rich, loose, warm soil is best. Raised beds help with both drainage and warmth. Basil is tolerant of a wide pH range: 5.0 — 8.0. Use 1 cup of complete organic fertilizer for 3m (10’) of row. Or direct sow once soil has warmed in early June.

Growing: When plants are 15cm (6”) tall, pinch out growing tips to produce bushier plants — the leaves are what you want to cultivate, not the delicate, attractive flowers. If basil plants begin to bloom, pinch off flowering tips to prolong the vegetative growth period. Grown in insufficiently rich soil, basil will produce pale leaves. Aim for deep green, robust looking leaves by amending soil prior to transplanting or direct sowing. Drainage is key, but this must be balanced by ample water during hot spells.

Harvest: Pick leaves as needed, or harvest whole plants at the end of the season for pesto or freezing.

Storage: Basil can be dried, but much of the complex flavour is lost, so it is perhaps better to tear the leaves and tuck them into ice cube trays. Pour in some water and freeze the cubes, and then store these in a plastic bag or other container in the freezer until use. This will preserve more of the herb’s aroma and fresh flavour.

Seed info: The CFIA standard for germination of all herb crops is 50%, but basil seeds should maintain a much higher rate for up to 5 years, if stored in a cool, dark, dry location.

Growing for seed: Basil flowers are pollinated by insects, and the different varieties may cross-pollinate. For purity of each variety, isolate by 50m (150’).

Pests & Disease: The strong scent of basil repels many insect pests (it is a common ingredient in insect repellents), but the young plants may be attacked by slugs. Aphids and whitefly can be a problem. If Fusarium is present, look for a Fusarium-resistant variety. Burn all affected plants. In very damp conditions, Botrytis can damage plants — it shows up as a grey mould. Prevent with good drainage and thinning to improve air circulation.

When to Harvest Garlic

How to Grow Garlic

How do you know when to harvest garlic bulbs and if they have matured to the right point for harvest?

Each leaf on the above-ground garlic plant represents one potential papery wrapper around the mature bulb. Having well developed, fully intact wrapper layers means that your garlic will store longer and keep its wonderful aroma and flavour. The trick is to let the plants begin to die back, but harvest before all the leaves have turned brown.

When to harvest garlic

The top-most, green leaves extend down, into the soil, into the heart of each garlic bulb. When the lower two thirds of leaves have dried up and turned brown, your garlic bulbs will be at their best. Because there are still green leaves, there is still quite a lot of moisture left in the bulbs. The process of allowing this moisture to reduce naturally is called “curing” and will increase the storage life of your garlic by months.

Harvest your garlic bulbs gently. Take time to loosen the soil above each bulb. Avoid piercing the bulbs you loosening the soil some distance from each one with a fork. Do not rely on simply pulling upwards on the stem, but rather pull gently and at the same time coax the bulb out of the soil with the other hand. All this fuss will be worth it if you can extract your garlic without damaging the protective layers.

Once your bulbs are dug, lay the plants in a single layer somewhere that is dry, airy, and out of direct sunshine. Leave the plants (turning them every few days doesn’t hurt) like this for at least a week. You want the green leaves to dry up and turn brown on their own. This can take several weeks if a lot of moisture is present in the plants’ tissues, so play it by ear.

When the bulbs are cured, and no green is left showing on the upper leaves, the garlic will be ready for cleaning and storage. We prefer using a toothbrush to loosen and scrub away any soil still stuck to the bulbs, and trim the roots with scissors. This is the time to braid soft-neck garlic. For hard-neck garlic, trim the stem to within about three inches from the bulb. If you notice that the stem is pliant or seems to still have a moist core, it’s worth letting the garlic dry for another week. Garlic netting is the best way to store hardneck garlic bulbs, but they can also be tied in small bundles and hung for easy access in the kitchen.

Save your biggest, best looking bulbs for planting in September – or choose some new garlic varieties. Either way, plant lots of garlic. It’s one of the most economical garden crops.

More on How to Grow the Best Garlic.

Garlic Scape Pesto Recipe.

How to Dry Herbs for Tea

How to Dry Your Herbs for Tea

Drying herbs for tea, or culinary use, is fast and easy. Harvest on dry days, preferably in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is strong, or pick at dusk. Rinse and pat dry, if desired.

While herb bundles hanging upside down look pretty, this process can be messy and the herbs may attract dust or bugs. Instead, strip the herbs from their stems—which hold residual water—and dry them flat, preferably on a mesh screen or tray.

Sprinkle the herbs no more than two or three layers thick on the screen. Store away from direct heat and light (room temperature is fine), and fluff them occasionally until they crumble when crushed; leathery, pliable leaves are not dry enough to store.

Use one large handful of fresh herbs per four- to six-cup (one- to 1.5-litre) teapot. When making tea with dried herbs, use one tablespoon (15 mL) per mug. These are simply guidelines, though, so amounts will vary according to personal taste, just as the strength of the herbs will vary according to their growing conditions.

Avoid making herbal tea in a metal pot, which is reactive and could affect the taste; choose ceramic or glass instead. Glass Pots make it easier to gauge when the tea is ready.

How to Dry Herbs for Tea

Benefits of Teas:

Peppermint:

Some claim that peppermint can help protect you from colds or the flu and that it can help build a stronger immune system. The facts that peppermint has both anti-microbial and antioxidant qualities offers support for this claim.

Peppermint can aid in the reduction of a number of painful digestive problems including gas, bloating and nausea. Additionally, it can help ease the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. One study showed that 75% of participants who took a capsule of peppermint oil daily saw a significant decrease in their IBS symptoms, in comparison with 38% who took a placebo capsule.

Menthol is also responsible for peppermint’s respiratory-aiding properties. The herb can be used topically or in a tea to alleviate common respiratory symptoms such as congestion, coughing and difficulty breathing caused by obstructed or inflamed passages.

The scent of peppermint is energizing and inhaling its scent can result in heightened levels of energy.  In fact, a German study showed peppermint to have the same power as 1,000 milligrams of acetaminophen.

Chamomile:

Although best known as a muscle relaxant and antispasmodic, chamomile is also believed to have antiseptic and anti-inflammatory capabilities.  Chamomile also aids in digestion when taken as a tea after meals.  Chamomile’s apparent ability to relax the smooth muscles of the uterus helps ease the discomfort of menstrual cramping.  A chamomile mouthwash may help soothe mouth inflammations and keep gums healthy and be used as a wash or compress for skin problems and inflammations, including inflammations of mucous tissue.

Animal studies show that chamomile contains substances that act on the same parts of the brain and nervous system as anti-anxiety drugs. Never stop taking prescription medications, however, without consulting your doctor. Treat diverticular disease, irritable bowel problems and various gastrointestinal complaints. Chamomile’s reported anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic actions relax the smooth muscles lining the stomach and intestine. The herb may therefore help to relieve nausea, heartburn, and stress-related flatulence. It may also be useful in the treatment of diverticular disorders and inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease. Used as a lotion or added in oil form to a cool bath, chamomile may ease the itching of eczema and other rashes and reduces skin inflammation. It may also speed healing and prevent bacterial infection. Cooled chamomile tea can be used in a compress to help soothe tired, irritated eyes and it may even help treat conjunctivitis. Chamomile’s mildly sedating and muscle-relaxing effects may help those who suffer from insomnia to fall asleep more easily, promote general relaxation and relieve stress and control insomnia. Chamomile tea is recommended to relieve morning sickness during pregnancy.

Lemon Balm:

In a study of lemon balm at Northumbria Univeristy in England students were tested for weeks while using either Lemon balm or a placebo. The students did significantly better on the tests after taking Lemon balm and continued to post improved scores for up to six hours after taking the herb. The students taking Lemon balm were noted to be calmer and less stressed during the tests. (From Prevention Magazine Sept. 2004).  It is also said to reduce pain during PMS.

Recent evidence suggests that lemon balm has a depressant or sedative action on the central nervous systems of laboratory mice. The German Standard License for lemon balm tea approves it for nervous disorders of sleep and of the gastrointestinal tract, and to stimulate the appetite (Wichtl and Bisset, 1994).

Lemon balm is widely used to treat anxiety and insomnia in Europe. It reduces anxiety and stress and eases sleep disorders. Recently it produced an unexpected result in a research study: it greatly increased the ability to concentrate and perform word and picture tasks.