Sweet Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
When we think of basil, chances are that we have Italian Genovese basil in mind, which is often used in pesto and tomato-based dishes. It has shiny dark leaves, and is very aromatic with a sharp, strong taste that compliments the sweet-tangy taste of vine-ripened tomatoes.
Other species and hybrids of basil include Holy basil, Thai basil and Mexican spice basil, all with unique flavour profiles.
Basil needs a sunny, warm position in well-drained fertile soil and it likes to be kept well-watered but does not like wet feet. It is sensitive to cold / frost tender.
Pinching the tips of stems encourages a bushy plant and more leaf growth. Pinch out flower heads as soon as the buds form to keep the leaves sprouting.
Sweet Basil is popularly recommended as a companion plant to tomato and said to be a white-fly deterrent. Planting sage and basil close to each other is not recommended though.
Basil makes a delicious addition to tomato dishes and is wonderful in salads, especially Panzanella Bread Salad - in essence a combination of cubes of sourdough or ciabatta bread, ripe chopped tomatoes (fantastic if you have a glut of home grown tomatoes), chopped basil leaves and olive oil.
Basil pesto is well known - it is basically a combination of equal amounts in weight of basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese and flavoured with salt, pepper and a bit of fresh garlic. Finish a freshly cooked pizza or pasta dish with fresh sweet basil. Basil often pairs well with fruit such as peaches, strawberries, rock melon and oranges and basil ice-cream is beyond delicious. It is really a versatile kitchen herb.
During summer when basil flourishes, use it as a cooling herb - it is said that it stimulates respiration and therefore brings down temperature. Apart from adding flavour to meals, its nutrients can provide health benefits from antioxidants, as well as from its essential oils when used fresh.
Supplied by Canterbury HERB Society
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