Do you remember the first time you tasted fresh basil? Maybe in an Italian meal or possibly straight out of the garden. Basil, commonly known as the King of Herbs, though popular it’s still a bit underrated when it comes to how far & how vast this species of plants have traveled.
According to the Herb Society of American Guide, “Basil belongs to the genus Ocimum and is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae).” The genus includes over sixty species of annuals, non-woody perennials, and shrubs native to Africa and other tropical and subtropical regions of the Old and New World.
And has a long and interesting history steeped in legend. Probably originating in Asia and Africa (73), it is thought to have been brought to ancient Greece by Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.E.), to have made its way to England from India in the mid-1500s and arrived in the U.S in the early 1600s.” herbsociety.org
Getting to know much more about the characteristics of Basil, will pilot our gardens from continent to continent down into the hidden gems of countrysides and villages back to our tables. Here is an overview to be used as a compass. So Let’s go…
Origin: Asia, Africa then to Thailand (India) then Italy (Europe)
Prominent: Thai & Vietnamese Cuisine, basil here is known as Tulsi in stir-fries, soups, and curries.
African Cuisine: Bean Soups, Curried Chicken dishes
Mediterranean: Grilled and fresh vegetable dishes. The Mediterranean lifestyle lists the following uses: tomato sauces, pestos, fish, poultry, mean, herb butter, yogurt, cottage cheese & raw vegetables.
Italian Cuisine: Tomatoes Sauces, Pestos, Soups, Stews, Salads, Desserts (Ice Cream & confections)
Sweet Basil is also grown and referred to as French Basil & Italian Basil. It is noted that large commercial grows for fresh and dried basil is prominent in the Provence region in France, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Morocco, Greece, United States, Greece & Israel.
Qualities: High in antioxidant properties, anti-inflammatory and anti-stress for both consumption and topical use (extracted basil oil for bath). This plant has a long list of health benefits; and is widely used in India for medical purposes more so than in food.
Thai Basil (Siam Queen Thai Basil)
Asian Cuisine, African (Liberian) Cuisine
- Stir Fry
- Soups & Rice
- Higher cooking temperature tolerance than other basil
- All parts of the basil plant are edible, flower, stem & leaves
- Not to be confused with Holy Basil. Thai is sweet, Holy Basil leaves are toothy and spicy.i
Origin: It is an Italian Basil, possibly an Asian breed
Taste: Mild taste
- Asian, Greek/Mediterranean Cuisine Salads
- Fresh Dishes
- Lettuce Wraps
Purple Basil / Dark Opal Basil
Origin: Bred in the University of Connecticut in the 1960s
Taste: Strong flavor similar to Clove or Anise spices
- Indian, African, Caribbean Cuisine
- Sweet or Savory Dishes that would pair well with clove or anise (e.g. sweet potatoes, pork, figs, melons, coconut, beans, rice)
- Infuse vinegar or transforming to purple hues for presentation, tea
Qualities: Contains the same flavonoid that is found in acai, dark berries, red/ purple grapes, and is a powerful antioxidant
Italian Large Leaf
Taste: Sweet & Mild Flavor
Suggested Use: Indian, Asia, African, Italian, Greek Cuisine and is a great substitute for Sweet, Italian, and French Basil.
These were all planted with organic seeds except the Sweet Basil that was bought as a plant at the market. However, basil is easy to grow, and is planted by seed, a cutting or beginning with a starter plant; generally located in the grocery’s produce section.
Basil plants are annuals or perennials, they may have a one-season life cycle or suppress this time. But eventually, it will need to be replaced.
And yes they can be successfully grown indoors throughout the winter providing it receives the right care: like an adequate amount of light (winter is more up to 12) well-drained soil, warm temperature, balanced watering.
Hydroponics units are also very popular now…the only hesitancy is that it requires repurchasing nutrient refills. I haven’t researched the nutrients yet as far as whether they are chemical-free and units’ ratings. This is definitely something I would consider for microgreens if it meets safety standards.
Question: Are you growing with a hydroponic unit? If so I’d like to know your thoughts about the quality and functionality. Please DM me on Instagram @ theseasonalhostess I’d really like to know.
If you already have a basil plant and it’s near its end, the good leaves can be frozen and saved for later use.
To freeze, coat with olive oil first, then, store in a freezer zip lock bag or container. There’s also a suggested method like drying and storing in salt…which I’m inclined to try.
It’s similar to the traditional methods of preserving meats…This is still an old-world preservation method or practice, that is good to know.
So, are you ready to explore the exotic tastes of basil’s quadrilingual past? I am! And I’m so glad you’re here because when there’s “time” in the garden there are beautiful experiences waiting between here and the table.
Below are several links.
For Part II see TSH International Basil Inspirations located at Cuisine for culinary uses of Basil.
And to learn more about Growing Basil in Home Gardens, all year round please enjoy the link below.
University of Minnesota Extension
Growing Basil In Home Gardens
For a more in-depth reading on Basil, its historical drama, and a comprehensive step-by-step planting to harvesting guide, click on the insightful read by An Society of Herbs American Guide.
Yeah, with the right elements basil can transport your kitchen garden into a global experience.
Happy Growing! – TSH