Published on 03/29/00

Basil a Royal Herb in Garden, Kitchen

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Photo: Wayne McLaurin

Purple basil lives up to its royal name in the landscape or on your table.

Basil's Greek name basileus, meaning "king," shows its royal position among herbs. With an amazing array of flavors and scents, it's a constant delight in the kitchen.

This wonderful herb made its way to North America in the 17th century. It became a favorite of the colonists after being used in Greece, Italy, Spain, France and England for many years.

Sweet basil, an annual, is one of the most useful herbs to grow in your kitchen garden. This hardy plant grows to 2 feet tall and needs sun, water and caring hands to snip leaves to use in favorite recipes. Pinch off the flowers, too, as they weaken the plant.

Many Kinds of Basil

Several kinds of basil are available, either as transplants from nurseries or as seed. One catalog lists 27 types, ranging from sweet basil to purple ruffles, a dual-purpose (edible and ornamental) basil.

Plant seeds 1/8-inch deep in a good soil mixture. They will germinate usually in 7-10 days. You can transplant them when the plants are 2 to 3 inches tall.

Grow the plants in a sunny window or under grow lights. Basil is a tender annual. Plant it outside only after all chance of frost is over.

sweetbasil.jpg (32246 bytes)
Photo: Wayne McLaurin

Sweet basil is one of the most useful herbs you can grow in your kitchen garden.

Basil + Tomatoes = Mmmmm

Basil has a natural affinity for tomatoes, and no tomato dish should be served without it. Basil leaves are especially good to layer on sliced tomatoes with mozzarella cheese, making a colorful and delicious tricolor summer salad.

It's also good cut up in eggs, eggplant, cucumbers, pasta and green salads. This fine herb is a pleasure to use. Basil is aromatic, with an almost clove-like fragrance and taste.

Here's a great recipe to help you enjoy fresh basil at its finest.

Pesto Pasta (Serves Four)

  • 2 cups finely chopped basil leaves
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
  • 6 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1-1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend into a coarse mixture. Meanwhile, cook and drain a package of linguine or fettucine. Toss immediately with warmed pesto mix. Then serve and enjoy the results of your own kitchen garden.

(This pesto recipe can be frozen. Just leave out the Parmesan cheese and add it in when you put the pesto into the pasta.)

Wayne McLaurin is a professor emeritus of horticulture with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.