Growing Basil

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on August 20, 2010

Basil is an herb often used in Italian cooking.  Actually, it is used in many different kinds of cooking through out Asia in addition to Europe.  Because “basil”is thought to be derived from the Greek word basilikon, which means “royal” or “king,” basil is often referred to as the “king of herbs.”

In addition to its culinary uses, basil was considered an antidote to the venom of the basilisk.  In the early 1600s, the English used basil in their food and in doorways to ward off evil spirits and flies.  Used in the bath, it was a mild sedative.

We now have a dirth of basilisks and have other things to use as a sedative, so basil is used primarily as a food additive.  It blends well with tomatoes, hence its’ use in Italian food.  Purple basil adds color and spice to salads.

To grow basil, you must have a place in the sun.  Basil will grow in a window box, but is more fragrant and has more essential oils when grown outdoors.  Leaves and stems may be continuously pruned if light applications of a fertilizer such as a 5-10-5 are added periodically.  Add too much fertilizer, though, and your basil tastes like fertilizer.

Basil can be grown from seeds or plants bought at the nursery.  If you plant outside, make sure you wait until all danger of frost has passed and the temperatures are above 50 degrees F.  Sow seeds in a 1/4 inch trench, then cover.  Thin seedlings to about every 12 inches.  In about 70 to 80 days, it is mature.

For maximum flavor, harvest basil when the buds are formed but before they open.  If you are going to make vinegar with the basil, wait until the flowers bloom and harvest them, too.  They add color to the vinegar.  Do not let the seeds form, however, as that takes much of the flavor from the leaves.

Gather basil on a dry day after the dew dries.  Morning is best before the temperature rises.  Then you lay them on window screens or drying racks and allow them to dry.  The old method of tying them in bunches and hanging them from the rafters has fallen out of favor.  On screens, you can cover the leaves with cheese cloth or other loosely woven cloth that will keep the dust and bugs off the leaves but allow the air to circulate around them.

When the basil is completely dry and brittle, but before it turns brown, it is done.  Place the leaves in an airtight jar as soon as the basil reaches this state.  If you have dark colored bottles, these are best because they keep the herbs from deteriorating so much.

Alternatively, you can chop fresh basil into small pieces, place in an ice cube tray, and cover with water.  Freeze the tray until the water is frozen solid.  Pop the ice cubes out of the tray and place in a zip lock bag.  Repeat until all your basil is frozen in convenient ice cube sized servings.  When you need some, just thaw enough ice cubes to get the amount of basil you need.

Basil has a rich culinary history and is fairly easy to grow.  Be sure to include some in your garden next spring.  What other herbs do you use in cooking?

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Florida Speeding Fines August 21, 2010 at 3:21 am

I love growing basils. I usually plant them on pots because space is limited at home. Maybe because I love to eat Pasta alpesto, the main fragrance and taste is because of basil leaves with olive oil.. hmmm…. cheers!
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Patricia August 21, 2010 at 10:52 am

Hi Susan
Thanks for visiting my blog. I love basil in cooking and enjoy seeing it grow as fresh is always best. Like you, I like to garden organically and eventually want to have another blog on all things organic once my lavender blog is well established. With lavender it grows easy here in Perth as we have sandy soil and it loves free draining soil. Also we have dry heat here in our summers and thrive in that climate. Hope to bump into you again in the blogosphere. Meeting such nice people in the blogging community.
Patricia Perth Australia
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Pam August 25, 2010 at 9:01 am

Basil is absolutely my favorite herb to grow. On a hot and humid day, my whole garden smells like tomato sauce1
I didn’t know about the basilisk antidote. That’ll come in handy, I’m sure…one day. (At any rate, my Harry Potter obsessed kids will be glad to learn that!)
Do you have any advice for avoiding black spot? That seem to my one and only recurring problem in my basil patch.



Stephanie Suesan Smith August 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

I have never heard of basil getting black spot, but I am in a hot and dry climate. I will look into it and see what I can find. The information I have talks about the English using basil in the 1600s, and they would not have had pesticides, so maybe they just wash it off.


Oceanside Spa Party August 26, 2010 at 6:38 am

Got very much impressed from the read! and decided to get my hands wet in growing basils. Nice informative post


Ben from Green Powder June 30, 2011 at 1:44 pm

I didn’t know that basil was more fragrant when grown outdoors. That’s very good to know. I’ve always preferred to grow herbs indoors and didn’t think it really mattered too much. Thanks for the harvesting tips as well. It’s funny, when I read your posts, it makes me realize how wrong I’m doing things 🙂 Hopefully my plants will forgive me.
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Stephanie Suesan Smith June 30, 2011 at 2:29 pm

If they don’t, just plant new ones — one of the good things about plants. Hope you have fragrant basil in your future.


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