By Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Ailene King, Student Intern
University of Vermont
The most common use of basil is for cooking, such as in tomato sauce, pesto, or vinegars. But it also can be sprinkled over salads and sliced tomatoes, either whole or chopped. Actually, don’t chop the leaves, but tear them instead for the most flavor.
To make oil for salads, pound the fresh leaves and mix with a good salad or vegetable oil. If freezing the leaves, coat them with olive oil first. Leaves also can be dried and stored in salt.
In the landscape, don’t merely relegate basil to the herb or vegetable garden. Consider planting it in scented gardens, or use it as edging along a bed or path that you'll brush past and release the aroma. Or try mass plantings of basil in a border, plant in decorative outdoor containers, or grow in pots indoors, if you have lots of light. In ancient times, pots of basil on the windowsill were used to deter flies.
Other uses of basil include the cosmetic. Put fresh leaves in a hot bath as an infusion, for example. As a tonic, steep a few leaves in wine for several hours. Or steep in water as a tea to aid digestion. A drop of basil oil on shirtsleeves will help counteract mental fatigue.
Common Basil, also referred to as Sweet Basil, grows at a moderate rate. Depending on which of the many cultivars you grow, plants can be either upright or mounded. 'Green Globe' is a compact mound, only about a foot high, and great for edging. The foliage is green to purple, again depending on cultivar, and distinctly aromatic.
'Purple Ruffles' is a popular cultivar with both purple foliage and ruffled edges to the leaves. The flowers are terminal, spike-like racemes that are usually purple or white.
Basil can be propagated from seed. Sow seeds eight to ten weeks before planting outside in a well-drained soil. Or sow directly in the garden. Your site should have rich, well-drained soil with plenty of sunlight for several hours a day.
Throughout the season, remove flower spikes to promote increased growth and branching. Pruning the plants every two to three weeks also will promote growth. Basil does not tolerate frost well, so if you want to overwinter, take stem cuttings late in the season. Thinking about growing basil? Then try one of these five main species of basil: