Growing Fresh Basil
Growing fresh basil is easy, delicious, and takes little space. There are many different varieties of basil available, ones you will only get to try if you grow them yourself.
Growing your own herbs is a rewarding way to ensure you have the freshest, least expensive herbs around. Fresh basil can be used in so many ways, and grown in anyone’s home.
How to Grow and Preserve Basil
Basil is a summer plant, an annual that grows very fast when it is hot out. Growing fresh basil is easiest when you can give it the right conditions to grow in.
You can plant basil outside two weeks after your last spring frost, and it grows well in raised beds, containers, and in traditional gardens.
If your soil is too rich, basil might not be as flavorful. That means those of us with merely adequate soil may have an advantage!
Keep soil moist, as basil likes it moist. However, it doesn’t like wet roots, so make sure you have good drainage. Don’t crowd your basil plants, they need ventilation to avoid mildew.
As it grows, start pinching the top branches off at around 4-6 inches tall to encourage more side shoots and a taller plant.
After your basil plant is 6-8 inches tall, you can harvest leaves anytime by pinching them off. Fresh basil should be ready for harvesting 2 to 3 months after seeding.
A well pruned plant will supply about a half cup of fresh basil each week. If you grow two or three plants you’ll have enough fresh basil for a family of four.
If you are looking to make pesto, you may want a dozen or more plants, but a few plants should be adequate for most people.
Basil plants don’t last forever, and will flower and die eventually. Rather than replanting, you can take cuttings of your current plants. A four inch section of basil that has not flowered will root easily.
Take a four inch section of fresh basil, clipping at an angle just below a leaf node. Remove leaves from the bottom third of the stem (to keep leaves from rotting underwater).
Place your basil cutting in water, changing it every day or two. You’ll see roots growing in 10-14 days. Mist your cuttings daily. When roots are an inch or two long, remove them from water and plant them.
By pinching off top sets of leaves, you can prevent your basil from blooming. Start pinching at six inches high. Sweet basil usually grow about 18-24 inches tall.
Even if you aren’t using what you pinch off, it is important to pick regularly to keep the plant growing well. You can always freeze or dry what you don’t use.
Basil plants are short lived, and will flower eventually. Leave the flowers if you can, because bees love them.
Since basil prefers hot temperatures, you may struggle getting it to grow indoors in the winter. However, if you can provide the 80F temperatures it likes, you can grow basil in a sunny window inside.
Basil grows easiest outside, in the sun and humidity. Grow enough in the summer, and preserve it for the winter.
Dried basil is easy to use but does not taste like fresh. Use dried basil at the beginning of cooking rather than at the end.
To preserve fresh basil, you can blend or chop basil and freeze it in ice cube trays. Either freeze in water or in olive oil for later.
To save fresh basil temporarily, store it upright in water in a mason jar in the fridge like a bouquet of flowers.
Types of Fresh Basil to Grow
The most common basil to grow is sweet basil, sometimes called Genovese basil. You can also grow Thai, lemon, globe and cinnamon basils.
Basils also come in different sizes and colors, including smooth or crinkled leaves. You’ll see large leaved and tiny leaved varieties.
Sweet basil is a medium green color, and has a rounded leaf. In the grocery store, sweet basil is what you will find. Genovese basil has extra large dark green leaves, with flatter and more pointed leaves than sweet basil.
Both sweet and Genovese basil are great for pestos and Italian dishes.
Thai basil has smaller pointed leaves, and has a spicy, licorice flavor. It has dark purple flower heads, making it a beautiful addition to any garden.
Purple basil comes with a dark burgundy color. It is not as sweet as some, and has more of a clove taste. It is highly aromatic and can be used in an herbal vinegar or oil to add color to your food. It turns black when cooked.
Lemon basil is great in fish or chicken marinades, grilled veggies, desserts and teas. Lime basil is sweet, mild, and has a bright citrus flavor.
Lettuce basil is distinctive, with large floppy wrinkled leaves. It is great in salads, fresh dishes, and lettuce wraps.
Green Ruffles Basil has curly leaves. It has a mild flavor, great in pasta dishes or salads.
Holy Basil, or tulsi, is very fragrant with a spicy sweet scent. It is best cooked because it is a bit bitter raw. It is great in Indian meat curries.
Cinnamon basil has reddish stems and is also beautiful in the garden. It has a milder flavor and is delicious with fruit thanks to the cinnamon flavor. It is used in Asian cooking.
African Blue Basil can grow up to four feet tall, and is beautiful in floral arrangements. It has a scent of peppers, cloves, mint, and camphor.
Cardinal basil is another beautiful basil, with a strong scent. It is good for making herbal vinegars and oils.
Finally, Greek basil is one of the smallest varieties of basil, only growing to 8 inches tall. It is compact with small pointed leaves. Use in salads, soups, and meat dishes.
Cooking with Fresh Basil
Fresh basil is a delicate herb, and is best used in the last five to ten minutes of cooking time. You will lose the flavor of the herb if you add it too soon.
Use fresh basil with tomatoes, soups, salads, sauces, and pasta. Mix it up with parsley, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and sage.
Herbal oils and vinegars can be used for salad dressings and on sandwiches. Use fresh basil in cocktails too.
Dried basil loses some of the fresh flavor, but can be used in many cooked dishes. Dried basil doesn’t taste the same, and may be more minty. Use 1 teaspoon for every tablespoon of fresh in a recipe.
Though you can substitute dried basil for fresh in many ways, be smart about your substitution. In a marinade, dry probably works well. But in a salad, not so much.
If you don’t have dried basil, you can use oregano, tarragon, thyme, or savory instead.
When using fresh basil, rinse it just before using. Remove leaves from the stem and use them whole, torn, or chopped.
Use fresh basil in Asian dishes, Italian foods, and many sauces and salads. You can also use fresh basil in sweet dishes, like ice cream, fruit soups, and gazpachos.
Go with sweet basil for European dishes. Use Thai basil for Thai foods, and holy basil for Indian meals.
Basil is a delicious addition to many dishes. It is easy to grow, but likes the heat. It is easy to preserve as “fresh” or dried, but dried lacks the punch of fresh.
Grow fresh basil in the summer, as much as you need for the year. You can grow it indoors, but since it prefers heat, stick with growing it inside and out during the hot months.
Basil plants don’t last forever. You can pinch them to stop them from flowering, and you should use them to encourage leafy growth. But plan to seed or use cuttings to make new plants throughout the growing season.
With a freezer, you can save fresh basil flavor all winter long. Save money, use the freshest, most flavorful basil, and leave some flowering for the bees!