by Judy Funderburk, Certified Master Gardener
Ocimum basilicum, (sweet basil)
Walking through the culinary and fragrance herb gardens of the Glencarlyn Library Community Garden in Arlington County in July and August, you will find a treasure trove of herbs to smell and taste. Basil, parsley, thyme, sage, lemongrass, stevia, lemon verbena, lovage, lemon balm, fennel, and more compete for space and sun in the Culinary Garden. Lavender, rosemary, sweet annie, oregano, pineapple sage, and anise hyssop reside in the Fragrance Garden and invite you to rub their leaves and smell their varied scents.
This is the fourth in an occasional series of short articles featuring herbs grown in our Master Gardener Demonstration/Teaching Garden at the Glencarlyn Branch Library. Basil is our late summer subject. Read on to learn more about its background, growth habit, and needs, culinary, fragrance, and traditional medicinal uses. This is one of the herbs that is an ingredient for food or drink served as “tastes” at our annual AutumnFest celebration, to take place Sept. 16 in the Garden. Two taste-tested recipes are included below.
Sweet basil belongs to the genus Ocimum thought to be derived from the Greek ozo which means to smell, for most of its species are aromatic plants in both odor and flavor. “Native to areas in Asia and Africa, basil was brought from India …. to Europe in the 16th century, and subsequently to America in the 17th century.” (1)
All basils are tender annuals which are easy to grow, but are very susceptible to cold weather. They should be planted in late spring after all danger of frost is past and the nighttime temperatures are reliably above 65 degrees. To produce high quality basil, grow it in full sun in warm, well-drained soil with a pH around 6.4.
On average, basils grows 12-18 inches tall and foliage color can range from green to purple. There are many named varieties. Italian (Genovese), Lettuce Leaf, Red Opal, and Thai are all popular sweet basil varieties. Scented basils include Lemon, Licorice and Cinnamon. Leaves may be used fresh or dried, however drying diminishes flavor.
Ocimum basilicum, Sweet Basil has become a culinary classic. Its distinctively flavored leaves are added to many foods, such as Italian-style tomato dishes, pesto sauce, and Thai-style salads or meals. Basil’s essential oils and oleo-resins may be extracted from leaves and flowers and used for flavoring vinegars, oils, and liqueurs or for fragrance in perfumes, shampoos, and soaps.
Traditionally, basil has been used as a medicinal plant in treatment of headaches, coughs, diarrhea, constipation, warts, worms, and kidney malfunctions. “Current research is finding basil essential oil to possess high antioxidant, antimicrobial, antihypertensive, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory activity. Different authors have described the antibacterial properties of this essential oil as well.” (4)
- Herbs by Christopher Sullivan
- Basil by James E. Simon
- Basil News Article by Sherry Rindels
- Essential Oils by M.L. Chávez-González, et al. in Antibiotic Resistance, 2016
CHERRY BASIL GAZPACHO
- 2 lbs. ripe tomatoes, cored & chopped
- ½ lb. sweet cherries, pitted
- 1 small Italian frying pepper, seeded & chopped
- 1 ½ cups day-old crustless, rustic white bread
- ⅓ cup chopped red onion
- ¼ cup sherry vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- ½ cup plus ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and pepper
- 1 cup packed basil leaves
- In a large bowl, toss the tomatoes with the cherries, Italian pepper, bread, red onion, vinegar, garlic, ½ cup of olive oil, and a very generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for two hours.
- In batches, puree gazpacho until very smooth, about 2 mins. Transfer to another bowl. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.
- In a small saucepan, blanch the basil, about 1 min. Drain well and cool under running water. Squeeze out excess moisture. Transfer to blender, and with machine running, add remaining 1/3 cup olive oil until mixture is bright green and very smooth. Strain and season with salt.
- Drizzle basil oil on top of gazpacho and serve.
by ANYA VON BREMZEN, Food & Wine Magazine
This recipe will make enough pesto for four pounds of pasta.
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves, washed and dried (use a lettuce spinner or roll gently in a clean dish towel)
- 10-12 large garlic cloves, cut in pieces
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped
- 1 cup almonds, chopped
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil – the better the oil, the better the pesto
- 2 cups grated fresh Parmesan cheese (not from the green can!)
- 1/2 cup grated fresh Romano cheese – (you can use all Parmesan, if Romano is not available)
- Combine the basil, garlic, and nuts in the bowl of a food processor and process until pasty.
- When it starts to get thick, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Process until smooth.
- Turn off the food processor.
- Add the cheeses and a generous amount of pepper and process again to combine. Add additional olive oil if you prefer a thinner consistency.
- The pesto can be added to hot pasta and served immediately or added to hot pasta and chilled.
- Refrigerate leftover pesto in sealed container or freeze.
- Add cherry tomatoes cut in half for color and flavor before serving.
- For a creamier consistency, add half and half or heavy cream to pesto before adding to pasta.
Adapted by Berthica Rodriguez-McCleary from the Silver Palate Cookbook