Thursday, February 10, 2011

Basil 101

A little history about basil: Basil is native to India, and has been cultivated for more than 5000 years. But the word "basil" is actually a Greek word meaning "king". Greek and English royalty were known to use basil in their baths and for medicinal purposes. Basil can be used for relief from bee stings, and also makes a great insect repellent by simply crushing the leaves and rubbing them on your exposed skin. 

However, basil's most popular use is in cooking. If you cook at home, you have probably used it; in fact, many world-renowned chefs still refer to basil as "the king of herbs" today. Nothing beats the taste of a fresh sprig of basil in your favorite dish. I've even been known to pinch off a leaf and enjoy the flavor as I'm walking the gardens. But did you know there are about 150 varieties, each one having it's own unique characteristics? 

Here at Weksny Acres, we are currently growing 3 varieties of basil, which I will introduce to you. Since Genovese is the most commonly known, we'll save it for last.  First, let's talk about Boxwood and Thai.

Boxwood basil is a tight plant, which generally grows 8-14 inches tall. We did have one that got about 24 inches tall last year. Just as the name implies, it looks like a miniature boxwood. The Boxwood basil was developed in France. It makes a great ornamental edging for the patio or would be perfect for a small container by the kitchen door. It's also a great choice for making pesto and Mexican dishes.

Thai basil (Oriental basil) originated in India. It is not only used in Thai cuisine, but in Vietnamese and Indian dishes as well. It has a more distinctive and strong flavor than many other sweet basils. Thai basil has small leaves, purple stems and a subtle licorice or mint flavor. Some people say that it has an anise flavor to it. The flowers are edible, and the tender leafy stems can be used as a garnish or even cooked much like a vegetable. It's leaves and flowers are very aromatic, so it can also be used as a nice edging around the patio or walkways. It grows into a beautiful bush that can get up to 2 1/2 feet tall, so make sure you give it plenty of room if planting in your own garden.

Genovese is probably the basil that you are most used to seeing and using. It is one of the most popular sweet basils, best used to create those wonderful Italian dishes we all love. (I will admit, I am most partial to this basil since my wife, who has never cooked a dish I haven't enjoyed, is Italian.) In addition to being used in Italian dishes, Genovese basil makes the best pesto. This versatile herb also makes a good "after-dinner" tea that aids in digestion. It grows 18 to 24" tall with bright green leaves.

We have had good success growing these 3 varieties of basil here on the farm. We have all 3 growing again this year too. Our basil is available as fresh cut, dried, and as potted plants so you can enjoy your fresh herbs all year long.

If you know of a great basil that you think we should try, please let us know. We are always on the look out for great basil.