Saturday, October 9, 2010
Herb of the Week -- Basil
The herb of the week is Basil. (ocimum basilicum)
I cannot think about Basil, without thinking of Sherlock Holmes.
Sadly, I also can’t hear the name Basil Rathbone, without picturing a leafy green character reminiscent of Sesame Street, The Muppet Show or Vegi-Tales.
But once I move beyond word recognition, Basil is one of the very most fragrant herbs I have ever grown. I hadn’t cooked with it much when Diann and I first met, and so at first I was reluctant at first to put an annual into our garden. But once we started growing it, I was hooked.
If for no other reason that the aroma, Basil is an essential part of our garden now. We can go outside, and drag our fingers across the plants and the fragrance follows us all the way down the walkway.
Basil got its name indirectly from the Greek word basilieus meaning King. But the story doesn’t end there. Basil was not necessarily the king of herbs.
Legend has it that the name came from a mythical creature known as the basilisk (or king of snakes) . This creature was supposed to have the head of a rooster, the body of a serpent, and the wings of a bat.
It was extremely poisonous and even its breath or glare could be fatal. Its appearance is so dreadful, that if it could see itself in a mirror it would burst apart with horror and fear. Basil was said to be the only cure for its bite as well as its breath, which could kill plants and animals.
Another explanation is that, as it was used in embalming, the name came from the Greek basilikon phuton, meaning magnificent, royal or kingly herb. I have no way of knowing which one is true, but personally, I prefer the Basilisk story, just because it is more exciting.
Basil is rich in folklore and superstition. Because of its believed effectiveness against the basilisk, Basil was presumed to have medicinal properties when applied to the bites or stings of animals.
The ancient Greeks and Romans thought that Basil would only be effective if it were planted while the sower was screaming wild curses. They also believed if you left a Basil leaf under a pot, it would turn into a scorpion. Many believed that even smelling the leaves would cause scorpions to grow in the brain!
When the Hindu god, came down to Earth she was supposed to have taken the form of Basil. As such, Hindus hold the herb sacred and ask forgiveness when they touch it.
In Romania there is an old custom that if a boy accepts a sprig of basil from a girl, he is engaged to marry her.
Legend has it that Basil was found growing around the tomb of Jesus. **Note, Although many herbal legends seem to share this claim, it may not be too far from the truth in this case. Basil was often used in embalming, dating back to ancient Egypt, and as such was planted in areas in and around tombs, where it would be readily available when needed.
Today, it is a primary ingredient in Italian and Vietnamese, Laotian and Thai cooking, In addition to its culinary uses, Basil is also used in perfumes, soaps, shampoos and dental preparations.
Basil is a fragrant and tasty annual, good raw or cooked, which can be grown indoors or out. It is very sensitive to frost and even to cold winds. It does best 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. It will grow in full shade, and do remarkably well, but plants grown in the shade do not develop as strong of flavor as plants grown in full sun.
Although it can be grown from seed, there are over 60 different varieties of basil, so there are always many varieties of plants available at the nursery each spring.
One of the most important steps in growing a superb batch of basil is the harvest.
The goal is to grow your plant to the maximum height and produce the bushiest plant possible with the most amounts of leaves. That is the secret to growing great basil, and although most people know how to plant and pick and even cook Basil, many, like myself until this season, do not understand the tricks to getting a big full bushy plant. The key is actually in the pruning that you do to produce the best plant.
Fairly early in the growing season, you should try nipping off the end growth of each branch. The plant should have at least 3 sets of leaves at this point, and be at least 1 foot tall, to ensure that you are not going to kill the plant. It is even better if you wait until they have 4 to 6 sets of leaves so that the plant will flourish for a longer period of time. For the first pruning you should cut the plant right above the second set of leaves. This needs to be done every 3 weeks or so, to see a significant growth. If you do this correctly every time then you should be able to produce 15-24 cups of basil per plant per season.
Like most herbs, the best time to harvest the basil is in the morning. It should be right after the morning dew has dried, and before the heat of the afternoon. The essential oils are at their strongest at that time, giving more flavor to the plant. The night before you harvest, you should water down the plant thoroughly to ensure that all the dust and particles have been washed off.
*Note: This strategy will work for many of your herbs. By nipping the end of the branch, you force growth further down the branch, producing a bushier, leafier plant.
Once you have your Basil harvested, there are several things you can do with it. Of course, fresh Basil can be used for many things, from salads to garnishes, to pesto, to pizza.
Basil can be dried or frozen, as well. Neither method will be as good as fresh Basil, but you will still be able to add the flavor of basil to foods long after the growing season has ended.
Before you go preserving all of it, though, you should try this recipe with some of your fresh Basil:
Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil Plate
1 ball (8 ounces) fresh mozzarella
1 large ripe tomato
1/2 cup fresh whole Basil leaves
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Use a serrated knife to halve the ball of mozzarella and then slice into 1/4-inch thick half moons. Slice the top and bottom off of the tomato; chop these pieces into a fine dice and set aside. Slice the tomato in half down through the center and then cut each half into 1/4-inch thick half moons.
Working in a circle on a dinner plate-sized serving platter, overlap the slices of mozzarella and tomatoes. Tuck a Basil leaf in between each layer, allowing much of the leaf to show. Arrange the reserved diced tomatoes in the center of the plate and garnish with another Basil leaf or two. Drizzle the olive oil over everything; sprinkle with the salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with a nice crusty bread, preferably homemade.
Makes two or three servings.
It’s not the same, but this recipe reminds me, Diann makes an absolutely delicious concoction with tomatoes and garlic and Basil that she puts on toasted bread. She knows the fancy Italian word for it, but I just call it good! It was the reason that we decided to grow Basil, even though it is an annual. Basil is one of the few annuals we grow in our herb garden.
And of course, by this time of year, we have all eaten all the zucchini we want for the summer, but the darn plants just wont stop yet, so here is a way to use up a few of those big green behemoths.
Remember, as with most dried herbs, 1 T. fresh basil = 1 t. dried basil.
2 medium zucchini, chopped (1 large)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 T. fresh parsley minced
1 1/2 t. dried Basil
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes
1 can (12 ounces) evaporated milk
1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese
Pinch sugar, optional
Chopped fresh herbs, optional garnish
In at least a 4 qt. soup kettle over medium heat, saute the zucchini, onion, garlic, parsley, and Basil in butter until vegetables are tender. Stir in flour, salt and white pepper. Gradually stir in chicken stock and lemon juice; mix well. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes. Add Tomatoes, evaporated milk, and corn; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 5 minutes or until corn is tender. Just before serving, stir in Cheddar and Parmesan Cheese.
Add sugar and garnish with chopped fresh herbs, may also be garnished with homemade croutons.
There are many medicinal uses for Basil, The leaves are said to strengthen the stomach and induce perspiration. They are used as a nerve tonic and said to sharpen the memory. During the rainy season
boiled with tea, it is said to as preventive against malaria. In case of acute fevers, the leaves boiled with powdered cardamom in half a liter of water and mixed with sugar and milk is reported to bring down the temperature. It is given every 2-3 hours, with sips of cold water given in between.
Basil has been reported to bring on Menstrual cycles, and so pregnant women should not treat with Basil unless directed by a physician.
Basil is a primary ingredient in many cough syrups and expectorants. It can help to mobilize mucus in bronchitis and asthma. A decoction of the leaves, with honey and ginger may be used to treat bronchitis, asthma, and dry cough. A decoction of the leaves, cloves and common salt is said to give immediate relief in case of influenza. In either case they should be boiled in half a liter of water till only half the water is left then add the other ingredients. Common sense reminds us to be careful when administering any hot liquid, so as to not burn the mouth.
Basil leaves are regarded as an 'adaptogen' or anti-stress agent. Studies have shown that the leaves can provide significant protection against stress. Even healthy persons can chew leaves of basil, twice a day, to help prevent stress. As an added benefit this will help counteract bad breath, and will also contribute to healthy gums.
In Magic, Basil is said to open the pathway to prosperity, promote a sense of love and well being and is reportedly an aphrodisiac for women. Basil is used in purification and wealth spells.
Put basil leaves in all corners of the rooms in your house to aid in protection. Make a basil charm and carry on your person or hang in your car to aid in safe trips. Place basil leaves in your wallet to help in the aid of monetary needs. Carry basil in your pocket for luck in gambling.
To foretell relationships place two basil leaves on burning charcoal. If the leaves fly apart so will the relationship. If the leaves burn quietly the lovers will be in bliss. Basil is used in many potions, for love money health and protection. Use basil incense for purification before rituals. Burn basil for visions questing.
Witches flying ointment is made with the juice of basil. To promote fidelity sprinkle basil over your partners heart. Use basil oil in room diffusers to promote tranquillity.
Basil leaves put on computers is said to keep them working.
And on that note, I hope that a picture on my screen will work as well ~!