Basil’s title as “King of Herbs” comes from long centuries of herb domination.
In ancient times it was used to embalm corpses before the mummification process; it was believed to have magical healing powers, and the Greeks even believed that it could cure a dragon’s bite. Even in modern times, basil’s uses and benefits might seem supernatural.
It has incredible health properties like reducing inflammation, relieving pain, fighting bacterial infections, and improving digestive health.
But basil’s most important function in cooking is enhancing the flavors of the food to which it’s added. As a result, it is a delicious addition to countless meals.
This guide will teach you how to grow basil so that you can add your kitchen to the King of Herb’s empire!
Growing Basil in Containers
If you think basil would help your soups and sauces in the winter, try growing basil in a container indoors. Basil thrives in temperatures between 60 F-75 F, so it cannot be grown outside during the winter. But that’s likely within your indoor temperature range even in the coldest months.
The only thing to note is that basil does need sunshine, so if you have grey and overcast winters, you are still out of luck. If you don’t, place your container near a window that gets at least 6 hours of sunshine a day.
Having basil in a container also makes it easier to access for culinary use!
Basil can flourish in numerous different kinds of containers. People have grown basil in laundry baskets, suitcases, kiddie pools; you name it, it probably has held a basil plant.
Somethings to note though before you try growing basil in your old bike helmet: it is necessary that your container has drainage holes. The biggest threat to a basil plant is swampy soil because this can lead to root rot.
Growing Basil From Cuttings, Seeds, and Seedlings
Basil is a very easy plant to grow. Because of this, it is no hassle to start it from seeds. However, if you want your basil quickly, starting from a seedling will reduce the time until harvest.
If you are looking to be thrifty, or mooch off of your friend’s basil plant, you can also grow basil from a cutting. To do so, choose a section of the basil that is at least 4 inches long. The section should not have flowered yet.
Place the cutting in water in a clear glass on a windowsill. Every couple of days change the water. After a couple of weeks, you should have 2 inches of root growth. Then, you can plant the basil in soil!
Types of Basil
There are numerous different varieties of basil, each with their own unique look, taste, and purpose. Here are five of the best types of basil to grow in your garden.
One of the most popular types of basil to grow, sweet basil is excellent for use in cooking, complementing sauces, salads, you name it. This beautiful basil can grow to be 12-18 inches tall, and its coloring ranges from green to purple.
This strongly flavored basil tastes faintly of licorice. It has purple stems and purple-veined leaves, making it an unusual and gorgeous decorative plant. Thai basil quickly loses its aroma after being plucked, so use it quickly.
Genovese is great to use in Italian cooking, its spicy flavor bringing depth to dishes. It has notably flatter and pointier leaves than other kinds of basil and is more tolerant of the cold.
This basil grows tall, reaching 20-24 inches. It grows striking white spikes, making it more suited to decorative purposes. It is great to add to citrusy drinks to amp up their flavor. Lemon basil thrives in phosphorus-rich soil, so use fertilizer with it.
This basil is also called Mexican spicy basil because its spicy flavor and aroma pack a punch, making it an excellent garnish. It grows to be up to 25 inches tall, and its small pinkish, shiny leaves make it a great decorative basil.
How to Grow Basil
What You Will Need
- Basil Seeds/ Basil Seedlings/ Basil Cuttings
- Common Gardening Tools
- Fertilizer (optional)
- Container (optional)
Step One: Prepare
Prepare your soil, either in your garden or container. It should be fertile, have excellent drainage, and have a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
The spot you plant your basil should have consistent access to sunlight, at least 6 hours a day. Basil should be planted two weeks after the last frost because it cannot stand the cold. It is a good idea to start the seeds indoors if you are planting basil close to the last frost to protect them.
Pro Tip: Basil plants love the sun. However, if you live in a place with extreme heat, basil plants can also benefit from some shade, for part of the day.
Step Two: Plant Your Basil
Add some fertilizer to the soil before adding your basil plant or seeds. If you are planting seeds, spread them out over your chosen location and then lightly cover them with dirt.
If you are planting a basil plant or seedling, gently take out the root ball, place it in a small hole, and lightly cover it with soil. The soil should cover the roots and the base of the stem. Lightly pat it down, eradicating air pockets.
Space out plants with at least 1 foot between each one.
Once planted, water thoroughly.
Step Three: Care for Your Basil Plant
Water your basil plant once a day at its base until the top inch of soil is moist, but not to the extent that there is standing water. Ideally do this in the morning so that the excess water has time to evaporate throughout the day.
If you planted basil in a container, you will need to water more often. Also, if you live in an area with hotter weather, you will need to water more often.
Consider adding a layer of mulch on top of the soil to help it retain moisture.
If you are growing your basil from seeds, thin out the plants once they start growing so they are 6 inches apart. Keep an eye out for mold on your basil plant. It may be a sign that the plant is not getting enough sunshine or is too close to other basil plants.
Step Four: Pinch Your Plant
If your basil plant starts growing flowers, remove them; they will change the hormones of the plant and cause the leaves to lose their flavor. After the flowers are removed, the leaves will regain their full flavor in as little as a day.
As your basil grows and surpasses 4 inches in height, pinch off the top branches. This will cause more side branches to grow, eventually leading to a taller plant. When you pinch off leaves it encourages the plant to make stronger stems and leaves. Don’t pinch the lower stem though, only the top ones.
Step Five: Harvest Your Basil
Basil is the hydra of plants. Which would be terrifying if it was not so awesome.
You can harvest your basil once the plant surpasses 7 inches in height. Harvest your basil frequently. The more you harvest, the more basil you will have.
Harvest by gently pinching off leaves from the stem right above where the pairs of basil leaves sprout off. After you harvest the basil, 2 more stems will start growing, leading to twice the amount of leaves for your next harvest.
Pro Tip: Do not get too harvest-happy and cut the central stem because it will not grow back.
How to Use Basil in Cooking
Once you’ve harvested your basil, you can finally use it in cooking. Basil is a great addition to numerous recipes. Though you can always find substitutes for basil, it’s one herb that’s very difficult to replace. You can use it to make Caprese salads, put it on pizza, bake it into lasagna, grind it up in pesto, use it in cocktails, or just eat it straight up.
For the best flavor, pinch off basil leaves 5-10 minutes before adding them to a dish.
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