The Herb of the Month for June is Sweet Basil, Ocimum basilicum
Mankind has enjoyed the use of this herb 5000 to 4000 BCE years ago as basil has been found in Egyptian tombs. Some historical documentation suggests that the origins of basil was found in China. This lengthy period of cultivation has spread sweet basil all over the globe and has helped to transform it into many of its modern day cultivars. These individual cultivars have found their niches in various cultures around the globe.
Historically the name ‘Basil’ is Greek and means “king” or “basileus”. It may even be associated with the word basilisk which is a legendary dragon. Romans believed that basil would encourage romantic love, so Roman women would use the gift of a sprig of basil to indicate their love interest. Men also would wear it to indicate their love during courtship. During the Middle Ages the plant was thought to create scorpions. Later, in the Victorian age it could symbolize diametrically opposite sentiments such as love or hate.
Basil is a member of the numerous mint families, and sweet basil is the most commonly used culinary form in the United States. The flavorful varieties include lemon, lime, cinnamon, Thai, anise, African, holy basil, and so forth. The shapes of the leaves and plants are also varied and include columnar, salad leaf, globe, bush, miniature, small leafed, variegated, purple, and more! There is a flavor and form that will be a delight to every gardener and will be a welcome addition in any kitchen.
Now that June has arrived, it is a good thing to harvest 2” to 4″ of the plant regularly to prevent flowering and encourage vigorous growth. If you find that you need to harvest more than you can use in the kitchen, be sure to share or to make pesto for later in the week or season.
Basil seeds have a seed coat which becomes gelatinous when wet. This plant will often reseed itself and such volunteers are always welcome.
As all herbs, basil also had medicinal historical uses. It was used as a remedy for colds, insect stings, and sadness. Now we use the essential oil as an ingredient in commercial insect repellents. Sweet basil essential oil is also a component in perfumes and colognes.
Tips and Recipes for using Sweet Basil
- Be quick to harvest your basil before flowers develop.
- Some cultivars do not develop flowers.
- Make your 3 to 4 inch cuttings just above the leaf node. You can store the cuttings in a glass of water and use later. Do not refrigerate.
- Basil as with most herbs should be added at the end of cooking to optimize the flavor in the dish.
- Rolling several leaves together, combining purple and green leaves, and cutting will create colorful julienne confetti!
- Leaf Basil will work wonders in your sandwich!
- Use basil with fruits and fruit salads. This herb combines well with strawberries, peaches, and a variety of melons. Experiment. Also, add it to water, juices, and ice cubes.
- Dress up homemade or purchased pizzas with a strewing of basil leaves.
- Basil can be preserved as pesto in ice cube trays, or chopped and combined with water and frozen in a closed container. You may wish to top with olive oil as a preservative.
Summer Garden Salad
- 2-3 Persian cucumbers sliced into rounds
- 2 large heirloom tomatoes sliced into wedges
- ¼ Vidalia onion Thinly sliced (a mandolin works well)
- ½ cups or more Basil leaves torn or sliced
- 1 small garlic minced
- 1 Tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut the cucumbers, tomatoes, and slice the onion and combine in a bowl.
- Mix the remaining ingredients and for the dressing. Pour over your salad and serve with warm Ciabatta bread!
- 2 cups Basil leaves (or 1 cup basil & 1 cup parsley)
- ½ cups Parmesan cheese grated
- 1/2 cups Walnuts
- 2 cloves or more Garlic cloves roughly chopped
- ½ cups Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon Himalayan salt
- ⅛ teaspoon Citric acid – to retain color and freshness
- Place first four ingredients into food processor and pulse until combined.
- Add salt and citric acid. Turn on processor and slowly drizzle in the olive oil.
- Pesto can be frozen in a covered ice cube tray or small covered container.
- One cube of pesto in a winter soup brings summer cheer.
- Pesto sauce with pasta, olives, and halved cherry tomatoes makes a lovely summer side dish.
- Pesto sauce as a sandwich spread.
- Pesto as “the” pizza sauce under your favorite toppings.
- Serve as a vegetable dip.
- Add to vegetables after roasting them. Think tomato halves.