Basil, sweet (Ocimum basilicum, Labiatae)

Description

Half hardy annual, 2-3 x 1 ft (60-90 x 30 cm); light green, soft, hairy leaves up to 3 in. (7 cm) long; white flowers in August. Dwarf basil, a variety of this, grows to 6—9 in. (15-22 cm). Origin, tropical Asia, Africa and the Pacific Islands; introduced in 1548.

Uses

Leaves strongly and sweetly aromatic, similar to clove, used in cookery, particularly in Italy, and in India for curries. Because of its powerful flavour, sparing use should be made of it. The oil is used in perfume, and medicinally it is particularly of help in curing headaches and migraines.

History

Has had a chequered history, being loved and hated almost equally. Culpeper (1616-54) said that: ‘This is the herb which all authors are together by the ears about and rail at one another like lawyers’. Ocimum is from okimon, a name used for the plant in ancient Greece; basilicum is from the Latin basilica, princely or royal.

Cultivation

Sow seed in 55-60°F (13-16°C) in March; germination will take about a fortnight. Prick out, harden off and plant indoors in late May 9 in. (20 cm) apart, in sandy

rich soil and a sunny position. Seedlings transplant badly, so either sow generously inside or sow outdoors in mid May, and thin later. Water freely in dry weather; pinch out the tops for bushiness. Dwarf basil is best for pot cultivation. Lift in early September and pot up, for early winter use, cutting back the top growth hard.

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